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Why Does China Have a Space Facility in Argentina?

by Richard A Reagan

Did you know that the Chinese government runs a space observation station in rural Argentina? Probably not, not many people do. It supposedly was instrumental in helping the Chinese land a probe on the dark side of the moon. But its very existence, and the fact that the Argentine government has virtually no oversight over the facility is leading to concerns that the Chinese government is using the facility for more than just peaceful space observation.

Of particular concern is that China’s space operations are run by its military. So despite the Chinese government’s assertions that the facility is only for civilian purposes, there’s no guarantee that the Chinese government isn’t also using the facility for military purposes. And despite the Macri government demanding that the agreement authorizing the facility be rewritten to explicitly state that the facility be used only for civilian purposes, the Argentine government has no access to the facility to ensure that that’s really the case. Nor does it have any way to enforce the agreement or penalize the Chinese government in the event that China is found to be violating the agreement.

The Chinese government claims that the facility is open the media and to the public, but many of the media visits occurred before the facility first began its operations. And given the remoteness of the location, the fact that only Chinese nationals are employed there, and the fact that the Chinese military runs space operations, there’s no telling what is actually going on there. It could in fact be completely innocent work related to space exploration. Or it could be observation of other countries’ satellites with the aim of pinpointing their movements or intercepting their communications in case China ever decides to militarize space.

Regardless of whether or not the facility is currently being used for nefarious purposes, many in the West will likely look skeptically at facilities such as this. Given China’s militarization of the South China Sea and its forays into Central and South America and Africa, it’s only natural for many people to suspect that the Chinese government is up to no good when it builds facilities such as this that run roughshod over the sovereignty of their hosts.

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