In Blow To China, Argentina's Milei Looking To US For Defense Cooperation

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by Tyler Durden
Friday, May 24, 2024 - 02:20 AM

Authored by Autumn Spredemann via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),

Over the past decade China’s security footprint in Argentina has grown considerably, but analysts say recent indicators demonstrate President Javier Milei may be shifting defense cooperation back towards the United States.

(Illustration by The Epoch Times, Shutterstock, Getty Images, Shimin Gu/CC, Public Domain, Casa Rosada (Argentina Presidency of the Nation)/CC)

A 2012 agreement between officials in Argentina’s Neuquen Province and Beijing allowed the construction of a deep space tracking station near the Chilean border, that made Washington sit up and take notice.

The 50-year contract grants the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) the ability to operate freely on Argentinian soil. The facility, known as Espacio Lejano, became the precedent for a Chinese ground tracking facility in Rio Gallegos, on the south eastern coastal tip of Argentina, which was formally announced in 2021.

Since the Espacio Lejano contract was signed, analysts and U.S. officials have repeatedly expressed concern over China’s expanding collaboration with Argentina in matters of security and surveillance.

“The PRC [People’s Republic of China] has expanded its ability to extract resources, establish port, manipulate governments through predatory investment practices, and build potential dual-use space facilities,” U.S. Southern Command Gen. Laura Richardson said during a 2023 House Armed Services Committee hearing.

President Milei took office on Dec. 10, 2023, replacing the progressive President Alberto Fernandez, who forged closer ties with China and signed a 2022 deal to join the Communist Party’s Belt and Road Initiative. While campaigning, Mr. Milei made no secret of his disdain for communist regimes and signaled his intent to move away from socialist policies in favor of a more libertarian direction.

In the nearly seven months he has been in office, President Milei has enacted major economic reforms and a downsizing of government.

Other recent “positive indicators” indicate the Milei administration are prioritizing defense relations with the United States over China, said Leland Lazarus, the associate director for national security at Florida International University’s Jack D. Gordon Institute for Public Policy.

“The fact is that in just six months, he’s already visited the U.S. multiple times. He’s met with Secretary Blinken, he’s been to the White House … all that is like absolute music to General Richardson’s ears. To Biden’s ears,” Mr. Lazarus told The Epoch Times.

Ms. Richardson traveled to Argentina in April, on a visit that included the donation of a Hercules C-130H transport aircraft to the Argentinian Air Force and a tour of a naval facility in Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, the extreme tip of the country.

“We are committed to working closely with Argentina so that our collaborative security efforts benefit our citizens, our countries and our hemisphere in lasting and positive ways,” Ms. Richardson said in a statement at the time.

Argentine President-elect Javier Milei pauses for a photo while departing from the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, next to the White House in Washington, on Nov. 28, 2023. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

In Ushuaia, Ms. Richardson met with local military personnel to discuss their role in “safeguarding shipping routes vital to global trade.”

In an Argentinian Ministry of Defense release, President Milei confirmed that Ms. Richardson also checked on the progress of an “integrated naval base” at the Ushuaia naval facility.

Argentine officials stated that they also discussed “legislative modernization in defense matters.”

Under the previous administration, China had been given preferential treatment.

In June 2023, Tierra del Fuego Gov. Gustavo Melella gave China the go-ahead to build a “multi-purpose” port facility near the Strait of Magellan.

The project was promptly met with legislative backlash as three national deputies and members of the Civic Coalition filed an official complaint against the governor’s provincial decree to build a port with Beijing. The same group further accused Mr. Melella of violating Argentina’s national security.

No public records show the project has since moved forward.

Shift in Relations

Mr. Lazarus said Argentina’s desire for deeper security cooperation with Western partners was also evident in April when Argentina’s Minister of Defense, Luis Petri, signed a historic purchase agreement for 24 F-16 fighter jets from Denmark.

Today we are completing the most important military aeronautical acquisition since 1983,” Mr. Petri said in an official press release.

“Thanks to this investment in defense, I can proudly say that we are beginning to recover our aerial sovereignty and that our entire society is better protected against all those threats that put us to the test.”

The purchase occurred after multiple media reports in 2022 said the previous administration under President Alberto Fernandez was considering the purchase of China–Pakistan-made JF-17 fighter jets. A minister of former President Mauricio Macri’s administration, who asked not to be identified, confirmed to The Epoch Times that a deal to purchase the JF-17 jets was under consideration during the Fernandez era.

Argentina's President Alberto Fernandez (L) arrives at Beijing's airport ahead of the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing on Oct. 17, 2023. (Parker Song/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

The China snub on such a notable arms deal is telling for some, as the CCP has invested a lot in Argentina’s defense sector.

From 2009–2019 China transferred a total of $634 million worth of major military hardware to five South American countries—Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela,” a House Foreign Affairs Committee brief states.

“The governments of Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Argentina have purchased PRC [People’s Republic of China] defense equipment, cooperated in military exercises, and engaged in educational exchanges and training for military personnel.”

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