LAS LAJAS, Neuquen Province, Argentina — In the middle of the Patagonian desert, more than 40 miles from the nearest town, the Chinese have invested $50 billion in a space base they say will be used to send a rocket to the dark side of the moon.
On the base, an enormous white satellite slowly rotates next to living quarters for the Chinese scientists that man the facility, surrounded by fencing topped with barbed wire. Without an invitation, the curious can’t get closer than the gates, about a hundred yards away from the structure.
But the base also serves China’s more earth-bound ambitions, as well: To expand its reach into regions that other world powers — including the United States — have taken for granted.
“China has a general geopolitical strategy, namely the Belt and Road Initiative. This is basically an international geopolitical strategy focused on reaching trade regions, with better opportunities, as well as logistics infrastructure for positioning and importing goods they need as commodities, such as steel and copper. Everything China needs|to have a sustained growth level as well as consumption goods, such as food and soy.,” Pablo Ava, a public policy researcher with the Argentinian Council for International Relations, said in an interview.
The base is just a portion of the tens of billions China has invested in Argentina over the past decade, as part of a broader push to gain a foothold in Latin America. During the recession, at a time when other nations avoided the corruption-plagued country and Argentina was hitting the deadline to pay back billions in government debt, China swooped in with a loan that helped stabilize the Peso. China has since invested in Argentinian infrastructure and energy projects, and increased its trade with the country.
But China also took advantage of Argentina’s economic struggles to negotiate favorable terms on many of those deals. The base came at a steal: China gets access to 494 acres of land, rent and tax-free, for 50 years. The Argentine government gets access to the base just 10 percent of the time.
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