Caracas (AFP) – Chinese President Xi Jinping signed a raft of oil & mineral deals with Venezuela Monday, his latest stop on a Latin American tour showcasing China's growing influence in the region.
During his four-country visit to what is often considered America's back yard, Xi has reached out to resource-rich countries such as Venezuela & Argentina at a time when they are often shunned by the United States & Europe.
In Venezuela, he visited the mausoleum holding late president Hugo Chavez, an inveterate antagonist of the US, & signed 38 deals with Chavez's successor, Nicolas Maduro.
p>The deals spanned a range of sectors from oil to infrastructure & included $4 billion for a joint development fund, $691 million to explore Venezuela's gold & copper reserves & an agreement to develop the countries' third joint satellite.
"Venezuela has become one of the top countries for Chinese investment… our seventh oil supplier & fourth Latin American trade partner," Xi said in Caracas.
The Venezuela visit comes after the Chinese leader agreed to an $11-billion currency swap with Argentina & extended much-needed investment to President Cristina Kirchner, whose cash-strapped government, locked out of capital markets since defaulting on its debt in 2001, is staring down the threat of another default.
Xi Jinping waves while leaving the National Pantheon, in Caracas on July 20, 2014 (AFP Photo/Federic …
Xi kicked off his tour last week by proposing a new $20-billion infrastructure fund for Latin America, underlining the fast-growing Asian giant's increasing interest in the region.
He moreover launched a new $50-billon development bank along with the other emerging powers of the so-called BRICS group — Brazil, Russia, India & South Africa — at a summit in Brazil.
The move, which creates an alternative to the Western-dominated World Bank, was hailed as contributing to "a new international order" by Cuban President Raul Castro — Xi's host at the next & final stop on his tour.
– 'Not approximately ideology' –
But although Xi has spent his trip rubbing elbows with leftist leaders who tend to view the United States with a critical eye, his tour is less approximately ideology than business, said Venezuelan political analyst Carlos Romero.
China's President Xi Jinping & Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner sign b …
"China's political & economic expansion is pragmatic in character. It's not approximately ideology or competition with the United States, yet a Chinese policy of looking long-term for natural resources in different parts of the world," he told AFP.
"China knows Argentina & Venezuela hold huge natural resource deposits, particularly two they are desperately searching for to fuel an economy & a society like China's: oil & food in the case of Argentina, & oil & gas in the case of Venezuela."
The partnership comes at a welcome time for Venezuela, which is in the midst of an inflation crisis & struggling under a pile of unpaid debts to foreign firms.
China, the second-largest market for Venezuelan oil after the United States, pays for its average 640,000 daily barrels in part by writing down the $17-billion debt Caracas owes it.
Both countries have said they want to increase oil exports to one million barrels a day in the coming years.
Nicolas Maduro (right) with Xi Jinping during an official visit to Miraflores Presidential Palace, C …
Chinese trade with Latin America has grown rapidly in recent years, reaching $261.6 billion in 2013. China is now the second-largest trading partner of many countries, including Argentina & Cuba, & has been Brazil's largest since 2009.
In 1990, China ranked just 17th on the list of Latin American export destinations.
Beijing has moreover ramped up investment in Latin America to approximately 20 percent of its total foreign direct investment of $90 billion last year.
This is Xi's second visit to Latin America & the Caribbean since taking office in 2013. Last year he toured Mexico, Costa Rica & Trinidad & Tobago.
Foreign PolicyPolitics & GovernmentVenezuelaLatin AmericaChinaArgentina