Sunday, May 26, 2024

ARGENTINA | 18-04-2024 14:42

Argentine delegation inspects Chinese space station in Neuquén

Group of government officials, scientists and experts visit controversial deep space station run by Beijing; Inspection comes after heavy pressure from Washington.

A delegation of officials from the national government, scientists and experts have carried out an inspection of the controversial Chinese deep space observation station in Neuquén Province.

The Espacio Profundo CLTC-CONAE-NEUQUEN Station, located north of Bajada del Agrio, in the so-called ‘Pampa de Pilmatué,’ in Argentina’s south, has been at the centre of a geopolitical tug-of-war for months.

Variously described as a Chinese base, deep space observation centre and military installation, the site is the focus of diplomatic tensions, with the United States concerned about Beijing’s intentions and ongoings at the site.

US military and intelligence officials have long been concerned about the high-security 200-hectare compound, where China operates a powerful 16-storey antenna. They have reiterated those thoughts to President Javier Milei since he took office last December.

Thursday’s visit was an attempt to establish what type of activities taking place inside the base. The visit was confirmed by government sources, who indicated that President Milei’s government intends to "review the contracts” that led to the construction of the base, “which indicate that 10 percent of the resources must be used by Argentina.”

The same government sources also confirmed that the delegation is due to visit the European Union's space station in Malargüe, Mendoza Province, on Friday.

The inspection was ordered by the Cabinet Office, headed by Nicolás Posse, and comes repeated petitions from the United States, both through its Ambassador in Buenos Aires, Marc Stanley, and the head of the Southern Command, General Laura Richardson, who recently visited Argentina.

Earlier this week, the Chinese Embassy in Argentina issued a communiqué in which it stated that all work being carried out at the Neuquén base "is transparent." It said the activities had been "coordinated with the Argentine government" and that the base "has already been inspected" on several occasions.

Nevertheless, the visit went ahead. There was little in the way of comment from government spokespersons at press time.

Representatives from the Foreign Ministry, Innovation, Science and Technology Secretariat, National Strategy Secretariat, as well as experts from ENACOM telecommunications authority and the National Commission for Space Activities (CONAE) formed part of the touring party.

The delegation was led by Innovation, Science & Technology Secretary Alejandro Cosentino and National Strategy Secretary Jorge Antelo, the Noticias Argentinas news agency reported.

The Chinese base was built following an agreement in 2015 with then-president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and Chinese President Xi Jinping. 

Negotiations between the CLTC China Satellite Launch and Tracking Control General and the CONAE National Space Activities Commission began five years earlier. The original plan was to construct the base in San Juan Province, though eventually this was ruled out due to seismic activity in the region.

Construction was finished in February 2017, during the government of former president Mauricio Macri and it was agreed that Argentina could access 10 percent of the antenna time to develop projects and improve regional and international cooperation. 

The station has an antenna with a 35-metre diameter aimed at deep space exploration missions and can look into distances over 300,000 km above Earth. It is one of three antennae that make up China’s deep space station network.

Previous inspections of the site took place in 2019 and 2022.



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