A Chinese space research base located in central Patagonia, Argentina, has sparked interest in The New York Times, which has labeled it “one of the most striking symbols” of Beijing’s transformative role in the region.
The US newspaper highlighted the story on the front cover of its July 29 issue and dedicated an extensive report analyzing the reasons behind the colossal facility in the province of Neuquén. Under Chinese control, the site is part of the ambitious project undertaken by Beijing to land on the hidden side of the moon.
According to The New York Times, this facility is only one of many pieces of evidence of China’s growing influence not only in Argentina but in other countries in the region where it has invested in construction or to which it has lent in exchange for holdings in hydrocarbon reserves.
“The base has a geographical position very close to the Argentine submarine platform facing the Atlantic and a strategic monitoring station in Antarctica, where China has the largest scientific base in the world,” Gustav Cardozo, an analyst at Argentine Center for International Studies (CAEI), explained.
The construction of the Chinese space complex on Argentine soil, which covers about 200 hectares, is the result of negotiations between the government of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (2007-2015) and the administration of Xi Jinping, and is intended to be a space for “astronomical research.”
In Cardozo’s opinion, the base “has an objective of military monitoring” in a privileged space. In recent years, with projects like this, China has demonstrated a policy of “space race” with a very strong investment and improved technology from Russia and the former Soviet Union, to consolidate itself as a leading player in the industry.
In fact, the base in question is part of the Deep Space Network, a set of communication resources to support Chinese operations beyond Earth.
“China has a strong intention of exploring space and competing strategically with the US. This military base not only allows us to monitor space, since Argentine Patagonia and southern Chile are geographically very good regions because of the visibility they offer, China’s fundamental interest has to do with Antarctica,” said the expert.
The white continent is “very strategic” area in the eyes of Beijing due to the abundance of natural resources, in addition to hydrocarbons and mining. China is moving in to take advantage of the US’ fragile imperial reform period in which Washington is reassessing its commitments around the world, such as in Antarctica and Latin America, which have until the Trump presidency seemed to have taken a back seat to the European theater of Atlanticism.
“With Donald Trump, that gap between Washington and the rest of the Latin American countries has increased and China, with a strong investment, is occupying the space that the US is leaving behind,” Cardozo said.
In this way, “through scientific and technological means,” the military presence of China is consolidating, because in facilities like Neuquén, “the work of Argentine scientists is minimal.” Officials who control the perimeter are Chinese and “people living in the area can not enter the perimeter.”
In any case, the Neuquén Space Station is a symbol of the power of the Asian giant in Latin America. In the opinion of CAEI’s expert, “in a decade, China will play an extremely important role in the region”, a preponderant place that is already observed, he says, due to the strategic importance of Latin America, which is a supplier of food, raw materials and hydrocarbons.
The examples cited by the analyst include control over the Panama Canal and investments in broadening it, as well as the incentive to create new bi-oceanic corridors to improve trade. This is part of the Chinese project to include Latin America in the New Silk Road, the ambitious infrastructure investment project in the corridor that runs from South Asia to Eastern Europe and Africa.
The New York Times points to this Asian country’s strategy and mentions that the bond that formed during the era of progressive governments in Latin America (2005-2015) has lasted even after the shift to the right in several countries, as in the case of Argentina itself.
“China is taking a leading role, which will increase in the future because it has sovereign funds to invest and because it has an interest in Latin America, an interest that no other extra-continental power shows.” I believe that in a few years, in a decade, something totally visible,” said Gustavo Cardozo.
However, there is a difference between China and other powers that once were present in Latin America: the policy of treating countries as partners, since, for Beijing, “self-determination of peoples is of great importance”, as is “respect for internal sovereignty.” This is a policy of cooperation with “non-interference in others’ domestic affairs” which, according to Cardozo, might be explained by “China’s past suffering of unequal treatment” from the colonial powers.
According to Cardozo, at a time when the so-called “Washington Consensus” dictated a package of rules to be followed by countries receiving assistance from institutions under the US umbrella, “today we could say that there is a ‘Beijing Consensus’ based on non-interference in internal affairs.”
This consensus “manifests itself in regions such as Africa and Latin America, where there are young countries that attach much importance to the issues of sovereignty and self-determination,” said the expert.
As an example, he cited the case of Venezuela, a country with which China has maintained close ties even when other countries have imposed economic and diplomatic sanctions. Beijing reiterated that the crisis of the Caribbean nation “is something that its people have to solve”.