Neuquen, Patagonia, Argentina
China and Argentina signed an agreement for space cooperation that will allow China to build an antenna for deep space observation in Argentina's southern Patagonia region, the Argentinian embassy in Beijing said 30 July 2012. According to the agreement signed in Beijing last week, China plans to establish ground tracking, command and data acquisition facilities, including a deep space antenna, in the Province of Neuquén, Argentina.
"This agreement will allow China to count as from the year 2014, with a ground station in the Southern Hemisphere to support the Program for moon exploration and other space activities," the Argentinian embassy in Beijing said in an e-mail to the Global Times, stressing that such cooperation was "for peaceful uses", adding "On the other hand, Argentina will share the use of the facilities for the benefit of its own space programs".
"The deal between China and Argentina can be seen as a sign of China's growing influence in Latin America as well," Jiang Shixue, deputy director of the Institute of Latin American Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times. "This shows that China is gradually expanding its bilateral cooperation with Argentina and Latin American nations, from economic and trade sectors to science and technology. Such cooperation offers a good example for new South-South cooperation," he said.
On 27 February 2015 the Argentine Congress approved the installation of a Chinese satellite tracking station in the Patagonia region, a measure that will allow China to speed up its space exploration plans. The Chinese satellite tracking station will be part of China's project to reach the moon in 2020, according to the Argentinean Aerospace agency CONAE.
According to CONAE, the station will be located in Patagonia's Neuquen province, in the southwest of the country. The site will be used to monitor and download data through an antenna with a diameter of 35 meters. The China Satellite Launch and Tracking Control General was expected to invest $300 million in the Argentinean base. The site will be operational in 2016.
The measure to approve the development of the Chinese satellite was passed 133 votes to 107 following eight hours of debate in the Argentinean Congress. Despite the approval, Argentina's opposition lawmakers questioned the potential military use of the site and a tax exemption condition that will benefit the station for 50 years.
Members of the government rejected the claims and assured that the station will only serve scientific purposes. "The agreement does not foresee the military use of the facility. But the presence of military officials is unavoidable as all space stations around the world have military personnel," said politician Guillermo Carmona.
As part of the agreement, Argentina will be able to access at least 10 percent of the antenna's available time to develop research projects. The Latin American country will also be entitled to use some satellite stations in Chinese territory. The preliminary agreement between China and Argentina for the construction of the antenna was signed in 2012.
It is common practice for countries to build satellite tracking stations overseas. Otherwise, a satellite that circles the globe can only be tracked when it passes above the country's territory, which gives a very short time for scientists to track and maneuver the satellites.
On 18 July 2016 the Argentine government modified the treaty on the construction of the Chinese space station in Neuquén province to reaffirm its civilian use, but continued to strongly support the project, Argentine ambassador in China, Diego Guelar, said in an interview with Xinhua. "We have supported it and we have agreed with the Chinese government to add to the treaty a clause that specifically says that (the station) will be exclusively for civil use," Guelar said after the foundation ceremony of the Chinese Association of Argentine Studies in Beijing.
The modification of the treaty is "an extraordinary fact" and "unprecedented in the history of mankind," he stressed. He also highlighted the reaction of China, assuring that he did not believe that there was any other power that "after having a treaty that allowed him to make military use of a base" accepted a modification that restricted his actions to exclusively civil use. "I think it is a fact that also marks the peaceful will of the government and people of China," he said. He also clarified that "many of the doubts and criticisms directed at China are derived from misguided reports from foreign media."
The objective of the construction of the space station in Neuquén, southwest of Argentina, is to complement the current Chinese network of space bases, since the stations in the Chinese territory do not satisfy the need of functioning at all times for their geographical locations. After its entry into operation, the station in Neuquén will be crucial for the development of the Chinese aerospace cause, while Argentina will enjoy 10 percent of the time of use of the antenna. During the implementation of this cooperative project, voices have been heard indicating that the station could be used for military purposes, and some foreign media have even considered it a military base. These doubts and criticisms negatively influenced the progress of the project.
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