Oil on the agenda as Chávez visits China

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez was set to arrive in China on Tuesday on a visit likely to deepen already strong ties that focus on oil but branch into areas stretching from the military to the media.

China buys 300 000 barrels of Venezuelan crude every day, and is eager for more from the Latin American country as part of its global quest for as diverse a range of energy supplies as possible.

“The recent economic slowdown has eased the short-term supply constraint in the world oil market,” said Kevin Tu of Vancouver-based energy research firm MK Jaccard and Associates.

“However, if we look at a longer time span, oil will continuously be a scarce commodity, especially when the world economy starts to recover from the current financial turmoil.”

The bilateral relationship is driven by one basic fact: Venezuela hopes to shift its oil exports away from over-reliance on United States demand, and China wants to diversify its imports to avoid over-dependence on Middle Eastern supply.

So while a drop in global oil prices amid the economic crisis puts Venezuela at a disadvantage, it may boost bilateral trade as China is keen to supply strategic oil reserves to keep it secure during future energy bottlenecks.

“The leaders in Beijing see the low oil prices right now as an opportune time for China to fill its nascent strategic petroleum reserves,” said Russell Hsiao, an analyst at the Jamestown Foundation, a Washington-based think tank.

Chávez, who has called for eventually boosting oil exports to China to one million barrels a day, will visit for three days, and is scheduled to meet President Hu Jintao on Wednesday and Vice-President Xi Jinping on Thursday.

He was due to arrive late on Tuesday from Japan for what will be his sixth visit to China since he came to power a decade ago, a record for a Latin American leader.

Xi visited Venezuela in February, when the two nations signed 12 agreements and doubled an investment fund to $12-billion.

“The fund is part of the strategic alliance that bolsters our common interests and confirms Venezuela’s standing as an oil-providing partner [to China] for the next 500 years,” Chávez said then.

Other agreements signed in February involved building in Venezuela a factory producing cellphones and an assembly plant for household appliances, as well as farming ventures and a deal between state-run Venezuelan and Chinese television networks Telesur and CCTV.

Historically cordial, China-Venezuelan relations have strengthened under Chavez’s leftist administration, with bilateral trade peaking at more than $10-billion last year, according to Venezuelan figures.

Last year, Venezuela launched its first geostationary satellite thanks to cooperation with China.

In another manifestation of the evolving relationship, Chávez last month inaugurated the Llanos railway construction project budgeted at $800-million that will be built with Chinese technology, media here said earlier.

Military ties have also expanded. Venezuela recently purchased a fleet of 18 K-8 reconnaissance and training aircraft from China with delivery expected in January 2010.

Chávez said during Xi’s visit that similar deals would likely be struck in the future.

“Venezuela will buy Chinese radar and airplanes specially designed for training,” he said.

More broadly, and despite the oil-heavy agenda between the two nations, China views the relationship with Venezuela through a strategic prism of empowering developing countries and the alliances between them.

“China-Venezuela relations should be seen within the broader framework of Beijing’s ‘south-south’ strategy to strengthen the clout of developing countries within international institutions,” said Hsiao.—AFP


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