The gravity of China’s space base in Argentina
What the South American country stands to gain from the deal is something of a mystery.
In 2014, Argentine President Cristina Kirchner’s administration signed a secretive agreement for China to establish and operate a deep space station in the province of Neuquén. The agreement, which predates President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative, raised questions among analysts about its terms. The 50-year equity-free agreement restricts Argentina’s sovereign control of the land and operations, provides exhaustive tax exemptions and enables the liberal movement of Chinese labour, working under Chinese labour law.
Unlike the civilian-run European Space Agency, which has a similar agreement with Argentina, China’s space program is run by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The Patagonian deep space station is managed by the China Satellite Launch and Tracking Control General (CLTC). The CLTC reports to the PLA’s Strategic Support Force. Unsurprisingly, the United States has expressed its concerns over the potential for spying and the militarising of space.
- Article 2 provides exhaustive tax exemptions. In other words, China will never pay tax on the establishment, construction and operation of the space station. This includes acquisition and contracting of goods, works, services made in Argentina, customs duty, domestic taxes, national taxes on consumption and VAT.
- Article 3 gives China’s control of the activities at the deep space station. This means Argentina effectively has no control over these activities on its sovereign territory.