China’s military-run space station in Argentina is a ‘black box’
Although the initial agreement included the building of a visitors’ center, a decade later, the program is complete and the facility in the Argentinian desert is surrounded by tall barbed wire fences with access to outsiders by appointment only. The site does not employ any locals or non-Chinese workers. While Argentina updated the agreement to specify that the location be used for civilian purposes only, there are no monitoring procedures in place. Further questions are driven by its place in the Chinese command structure; the facility is run by the China Satellite Launch and Tracking Control General, which reports directly to the Chinese army’s Strategic Support Force. Worried about Chinese “militarization” of space, U.S. officials have raised suspicions about the site. “The Patagonia ground station, agreed to in secret by a corrupt and financially vulnerable government a decade ago, is another example of opaque and predatory Chinese dealings that undermine the sovereignty of host nations,” declared a spokesman for the White House National Security Council. The difference between this site and similar U.S. or EU sites? According to international law experts, the difference is driven by the command structures: the U.S. and the EU have separate military and civilian space programs that only collaborate in exceptional cases. In China, however, there is no separation.