Nicolás Maduro visits China to try to alleviate Venezuela’s economic crisis

The Venezuelan leader seeks to strengthen ties with Beijing as attempts at rapprochement with Washington remain fruitless

A Venezuelan government image of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro during a broadcast of his weekly program 'Con Maduro+' from Shandong province, China, on Tuesday.MARCELO GARCIA (EFE)

On Tuesday morning, the President of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro connected live with his viewers from Shandong province, one of China’s industrial centers, to broadcast a new episode of Con Maduro+ [With Maduro+] while on an official visit to the People’s Republic. He praised China’s economic, social and technological development, referring to the nation as a “sister country” that he admires “deeply.” After a two-hour-long propagandistic program full of nods to his “historic visit”—he started the show by announcing that he was “imbued with Asian spirituality” and signed off by reading some of Lao Tse’s millenary verses—he set off for Beijing. Maduro said that he plans to meet his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, in the capital in the next few days, although Beijing has not confirmed the meeting.

Maduro is on a lengthy visit. He landed in China last Friday, seeking to pursue an eminently economic agenda and find solutions to the crisis afflicting Venezuela; Maduro is expected to remain in the People’s Republic until Thursday. The Venezuelan president wants to strengthen ties between the two countries, which have weakened in recent years, and to realign interests in a polarized international environment characterized by the tense relationship between the United States and Beijing.

“In recent years, thanks to the personal commitment of President Xi Jinping and President Maduro, China-Venezuela relations have withstood the test of a changing international landscape and remained rock-solid,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said last week at a routine appearance. Mao emphasized that China is “willing to work with Venezuela to draw up a plan to strengthen bilateral relations” and “take the comprehensive strategic partnership to a new level”

On Saturday, the Venezuelan leader was welcomed in Shenzhen, the Chinese technological powerhouse, where he was impressed by an aerial show of luminous drones. Maduro also visited Shanghai, the Asian country’s financial capital, where he held a meeting with former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff on Sunday. Rousseff is currently overseeing the New BRICS Development Bank, which is based in Shanghai. “It is a bank made by developing countries and for developing countries,” Maduro told Rousseff.

A few days earlier, he had already expressed Venezuela’s willingness to become a new member of BRICS. The platform just opened entry to six new partners, following a summit held at the end of August in Johannesburg, South Africa; that move has been interpreted as a geopolitical triumph for Beijing in the race to establish itself as a counterweight to the West. This international platform, Maduro said on Saturday in an interview with the official Xinhua news agency, has become “the major engine for accelerating the process of a new world’s birth, a world of cooperation, where the Global South has the primary voice.”

After a meeting on Monday with Lin Wu, the secretary of the Communist Party of Shandong province, a region with 100 million inhabitants, Maduro expressed his intention to use this region as a model in the eastern Venezuelan oil states of Anzoátegui and Monagas. During the meeting, they talked about “the oil, gas, industrial and agricultural possibilities” of this new connection, as he explained on Con Maduro+. Maduro’s visits to Shanghai and Shenzhen have included similar cooperation announcements.

Beijing is the Venezuelan state’s main financial supporter. The South American nation’s economy has been experiencing a deep crisis for years, for which Caracas blames the international sanctions imposed against the country by the United States and the European Union; the latter parties demand free elections in Venezuela as a condition for lifting the sanctions, which have meant that the country with the world’s largest proven oil reserves has difficulties in exporting hydrocarbons and accessing international credit.

Although the United States and Venezuela have maintained high-level public and secret contacts in recent months in an attempt to iron out differences and arrive at a rapprochement, the negotiations have not yet borne fruit. Maduro’s official trip to China puts additional pressure on Washington, while Beijing struggles to keep Venezuela within its sphere of influence.

China is Venezuela’s largest creditor, and Venezuela is the Latin American country that owes Beijing the most money: since 2007, it has received some $60 billion (about €56 billion) in loans from the Chinese state, according to the Inter-American Dialogue think tank’s financial database. The restructuring of this enormous amount of money has been one challenge in the relations between the two countries, and it figured prominently in Maduro’s last visit to Beijing, in 2018.

China is the world’s largest importer of oil and also the biggest buyer of Venezuelan crude, according to energy consultancy Vortexa. Since 2022, average flows from Caracas to Beijing are around 430,000 barrels per day, 60% to 70% of Venezuelan exports, Emma Li, a Vortexa analyst specializing in China, explains by email. “These barrels (mostly heavy crude and some residual fuel oil) are relabeled as Malaysian [sourced] diluted bitumen or Malaysian crude at Chinese customs,” Li adds. Officially, China customs data shows no imports of Venezuelan crude since 2019.

“We are leaving…on a train bound for the Chinese capital…for a meeting with the future, for a meeting with our brother president, Xi Jinping, to reach important agreements that will build the historic relationship founded by our commander, Hugo Chávez, even further,” Maduro said at the end of his program on Tuesday. Chávez, who died in 2013, played a key role in strengthening the ties between the two nations.

The Venezuelan president’s entire visit has been replete with expressions of fascination with the Asian giant. In the interview published in Xinhua, Maduro stressed China’s role in the emergence of “a fairer world.” The country, he said, “has ushered in a new era of the emergence of non-colonialist, non-imperialist, non-hegemonic superpowers.” He added that “today, [Beijing] is indicating the way to economic development, technological development, social stability [and] winning, building, and strengthening independence.”

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