China looks set to build naval base in Argentina, a 'gateway' to Antarctica: Reports

China looks set to build naval base in Argentina, a 'gateway' to Antarctica: Reports

Argentina's southern tip is only 680 miles from the Antarctic coast.

French news site Intelligence Online reported in November last year that China is putting pressure on Argentina to build a naval base in Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego province. The base will bring Beijing closer to Antarctica and allow it to control the passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. According to independent intelligence and local media reports, China is trying to establish a "gateway" to Antarctica by building a port at Tierra del Fuego that could act as a naval base.

Notably, Argentina's southern tip is only 680 miles from the Antarctic coast.

Reports in the publication also suggest that Argentina-based Chinese Communist Party (CCP) official Shuiping Tu has already finalised the entire matter with Gustavo Melella, the provincial governor. The proposed area will only be accessible to Chinese military personnel.

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Tu represents state-owned company HydroChina Corp and operates it in South America. China has made heavy investments in the region, enabling the CCP to build influence and putting them in a strategically significant position.

Officials had earlier stressed that Chinese investments in Argentina will not affect the country's sovereignty in any way.

Experts say a base in the region will help China intercept regional communications with a clear economic and strategic impact, leading to a clear and massive interference from the country in international affairs.

“A possible Chinese base in Ushuaia would allow Beijing to have a permanent enclave in the Southern Hemisphere, with a projection toward the South Atlantic, which, depending on the conditions negotiated with Argentina, could allow for the construction of facilities, as well as the presence of naval units and military contingents in this quadrant,” Alberto Rojas, director of the International Affairs Observatory at Chile’s Finis Terrae University, told Diálogo, a digital military magazine published by the US Southern Command.

“The Belt and Road [BRI] project announced by China in 2013 seeks to have a clear projection toward this area of the continent,” Rojas said. “And if this base in Ushuaia materializes, it could become the first of many others, both on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts or the Andean area.”

China currently has three operational bases overseas. The most prominent one is in Djibouti in East Africa, China’s first overseas naval base established in 2017. It was the result of efforts to prevent Somali pirate attacks on cargo ships moving through the Gulf of Aden. The route connects the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean.

Then there is the Ream naval base in Cambodia which acts as an important point for Beijing in Southeast Asia. Rojas says that China enjoys a high-level autonomy both in the base and its surrounding area, to the extent that it has already built a new port.

“And there is the base in Tajikistan, under construction in the Gorno-Badakhshan autonomous region, which shares borders with China and Afghanistan, with which Beijing seeks to reinforce its presence in Central Asia,” Rojas said.

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