US Creates Buzz About “Space Race” with China, Even in Argentina


Jakarta, IO – On July 27, 2023, Bill Nelson, a NASA Administrator, sparked concerns in Argentina during his visit to that country. His remarks about China’s achievements in lunar and Martian exploration and the competition with China being termed a “space race” raised eyebrows among Argentine officials and the public. Analysts speculated that Nelson’s comments might be an attempt to undermine Argentina-China space cooperation, particularly the joint operation of the Neuquén Deep Space Station. 

The Neuquén, commencing in 2017, today stands as a symbol of successful international space cooperation between Argentina and China. It has been utilized for peaceful space exploration and scientific research by various national science and technology institutions, including those from the United States. Diplomats from around the world have visited the facility and commended its civilian nature. 

Despite rumors and accusations from the US, Argentina has consistently stood by its collaboration with China in space exploration. Argentine officials, including Minister of Science, Technology, and Innovation Daniel Filmus, have repeatedly stressed how the Neuquén deep space station is dedicated solely to space exploration and satellite cooperation, akin to their collaboration with European partners. Furthermore, the station’s distance from the European Space Agency’s deep space station in Argentina reinforces its peaceful purpose. 

However, Nelson’s recent rhetoric has highlighted a perceived US hegemonic stance in space exploration, as evident in previous revelations of an intention to establish a “space force” presumably to dominate space activities. The rise of China’s successful space missions has led to an increase in references to a “space race” within NASA leadership, further exacerbating concerns about the US’ off-planet intentions. 

In April 2023, during a US congressional hearing, Nelson urged Congress to increase the space budget, to maintain the country’s competitive edge, while warning against letting China take the lead in space exploration, with a fear of potential territorial claims. Consequently, the US Space Force’s budget request for 2024 reached a record $30 billion, reflecting a 15% increase. 

From an international relations perspective, this issue reveals tensions surrounding space exploration and its potential for competition and mistrust among spacefaring nations. The US’s stance on preserving its dominance in space, coupled with China’s impressive advancements, has contributed to a sense of rivalry that some argue harkens back to the Cold War era. 

Read: Chinese And North Korean Refusal To Establish An “Asian NATO”

However, the international community has emphasized the importance of cooperation and peaceful exploration beyond borders. Space has often been regarded as a shared frontier for all of humanity, and the utilization of outdated Cold War tactics to gain an advantage in space is seen as counterproductive to the broader goals of global scientific progress and collaboration. 

As Argentina firmly supports its collaboration with China in space exploration, it remains to be seen how this issue will unfold on the international stage. While the Neuquén deep space station serves as a symbol of successful international cooperation, it is also caught in the crossfire of geopolitical competition, with the US raising concerns about its civilian nature. Finding a delicate balance between national interests, cooperation and peaceful exploration in space remains a complex challenge for the international community.

Raihan Ronodipuro is a Master’s Degree student in the School of Public Policy & Management at Tsinghua University, China. Previously, he was awarded the Chinese MOFCOM Scholarship and earned a Master of Law in International Relations from the School of International and Public Affairs at Jilin University in China. He serves as an Associate Researcher in the Department of Politics and Security at the Center for Indonesia-China Studies (CICS). He is presently a member of the International Relations Commission at the Directorate of Research and Studies for the Overseas Indonesian Students’ Association Alliance (OISAA) 2022/2023.