Xi seeks energy deals in Venezuela
Chinese President Xi Jinping waves upon arrival in Caracas on July 20, 2014 - by Leo Ramirez
The Chinese leader's charm offensive, which has already taken him to Brazil and Argentina and will next bring him to Cuba, seeks to secure new bilateral trade deals, particularly for coveted raw materials.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro greeted Xi as he landed at the Maiquetia airport that serves Caracas, with dozens of dancers and musicians performing traditional musical pieces.
Following a visit to the tomb of revolutionary leader Simon Bolivar, Xi will meet with Maduro and address reporters. On Monday, he will meet with the leader of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, and sign a series of agreements with the Venezuelan government.
During the nearly 15 years that late president Hugo Chavez was in power, China became a strategic ally of Venezuela in America's backyard.
China is the second largest buyer of Venezuelan oil, with an average daily volume of 640,000 barrels, in part to pay off Venezuela's debt of around $17 billion.
Both countries aim to increase the number of exports in the coming years to one million barrels a day.
Xi hopes to further develop his country's strategic relationship with Venezuela, just as Caracas's ties with the United States -- the region's traditional political and economic powerhouse -- are arguably at their lowest point ever.
The countries, which have not had ambassadors in each other's capitals since 2010, had poor relations during the leadership of late president Hugo Chavez and ties have remained strained under his successor, Maduro.
- Warming ties with Caracas -
By contrast, relations have been warming between China and Venezuela where bilateral trade has been steadily rising, exceeding $20 billion in 2012.
Xi's visit to Caracas is sandwiched between the Chinese leader's triumphant stay in Argentina, where he secured several major trade deals, and travel to longtime communist ally Cuba.
On Monday, Xi heads to Cuba, where he is to announce plans to build a factory producing "biosensors" for monitoring the blood of diabetics and other patients suffering from chronic illness, Cuban media reported.
He will spend two days in Cuba, the last stop of his tour.
A group of Chinese business leaders who have expressed a strong interest in investing in the communist island will be accompanying Xi, reports said.
- Trade, development deals -
During his three-day Argentine visit, Xi and President Cristina Kirchner signed more than 20 trade deals in hydropower, marine and rail industries worth $7 billion.
The two nations also announced Chinese plans for huge investment in hydroelectric power, shipbuilding, railways and a deal to help Argentina build its fourth nuclear plant.
Beijing will contribute $4.4 billion toward the construction of two hydroelectric dams in Argentina's southern Santa Cruz province and an additional $2.1 billion to remodel strategic rail transportation for carrying goods, especially food.
And it will provide $423 million for the construction of 11 ships.
China is Argentina's third-largest trading partner behind the South American Mercosur bloc and the European Union, and one of its main destinations for food exports.
Xi also was in Brazil last week for a summit of the BRICS group of emerging powers -- Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa -- and South American presidents.
The gathering saw the countries agree to launch a New Development Bank to fund infrastructure projects in developing nations as well as an emergency reserve, drawing praise from Latin American leaders who see them as alternatives to Western-dominated financial institutions.
Following the BRICS summit, Xi signed deals with Brazil, met with regional leaders and proposed a $20 billion infrastructure fund that highlights Beijing's growing interests in the region.
The visit is Xi's second to Latin America since taking office last year, when he toured Mexico, Costa Rica, as well as Trinidad and Tobago.
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