Argentina won’t break China ties if Javier Milei wins presidency, but ‘secret’ deals due for review: adviser

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Argentina will not break ties with China if far-right presidential candidate Javier Milei is elected, but it should review “secret agreements” the current government signed with Beijing and consider not joining the expanded Brics bloc, a top adviser to the opposition politician said on Monday.

Diana Mondino, widely seen as a potential future foreign affairs minister if Milei wins, stressed that his government would maintain open and transparent relations with all countries, including China.

The comments, shared during a virtual event hosted by the Washington-based Wilson Center, differ from the tone Milei has struck in interviews.

Previously, he has said he would “not do business with communist countries” and advocated breaking off relations with China in favour of ties with “the civilised side of the world”.

Argentina’s Economy Minister Sergio Massa (left) and anti-establishment outsider Javier Milei will contest the South American country’s presidency in a run-off election on November 19. Photo: AFP

On Saturday, Milei accused Beijing of interfering in the elections and claimed Chinese companies were funding YouTube ads backing Sérgio Massa, the ruling government’s candidate

Massa and Milei are slated for a run-off on November 19 after the two garnered the most votes among several candidates in the October 22 election.

“China is one of our main partners. They have been for a long time and, hopefully, will keep on being for a long time” Mondino said. “We’re talking about stopping corruption. This is Argentine corruption, not Chinese.”

Illustrating her point, she critiqued the currency swap agreement signed between the Argentine government and Beijing in August. At that time, the People’s Bank of China extended Argentina US$1.7 billion in yuan through currency swaps, which was vital for Buenos Aires to meet its obligations to the International Monetary Fund.

Argentina’s bid for Brics membership is up for discussion and subject to debate

Yet details of the agreement have remained confidential, raising concerns among some observers about the demands China might have extracted in the deal.

“Nobody knows the conditions, and 47 million people are going to pay that loan with their taxes,” said Mondino. “Is that reasonable? Give me one reason why a government should keep its agreements from the people?”

Asked whether Milei would review contracts and agreements already signed with the Chinese, Mondino was circumspect. She said “a country is an entity that lasts longer than its leaders” and that would make it difficult to break possible commitments made by previous governments.

However, she said she was willing to look into Beijing-Buenos Aires partnerships like a space base in the Argentine city of Neuquén. Called “Espacio Lejano Station”, the facility in Patagonia is operated by the China National Space Administration in collaboration with the Argentine National Space Activities Commission.

The Argentine media reported that the base was operated by military personnel from the People’s Liberation Army. In 2017, then Argentine chancellor Susana Malcorra stated that Buenos Aires had no physical oversight of the operation.

Argentina, People’s Bank of China strike US$1.7 billion deal for IMF debt

“We don’t know what has been signed,” said Mondino. “If it is really a space station, why keep it secret?”

“We will need to find out what is in there and, if it is something that is hurting the global community, we might try to make some arrangements to make certain changes,” she added.

Regarding Argentina’s potential membership in Brics, Mondino said Milei was open to considering potential benefits. Argentina was one of six nations invited during the 15th Brics summit in August to join the bloc, which consists of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

Although the current government in Buenos Aires welcomed the invitation and the access it might confer to funds from the New Development Bank –Brics’s development bank – that stance drew criticism from Milei and Patrícia Bullrich, who placed third in the October 22 election.

“Right now, it’s a ‘no’, said Mondino of the prospect of Milei accepting Brics membership. “But show something that makes it interesting and we might think about it.”

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