Venezuela’s Guaido appeals to China to switch sides
Venezuela’s self-declared interim president John Guaido has reached out to Beijing in his quest for international recognition. In a written interview with the South China Morning Post on February 1 he said that China would continue to play an important role in Venezuela’s economic development under his leadership, and he assured Beijing that Chinese investments would be protected. China has been a key investor and financial supporter of the Maduro government, which Guaido is trying to end.
As a growing number of governments have recognized Guaido as the legitimate leader of Venezuela, China and Russia are supporting the status quo under Nicolás Maduro. China, however, has been less outspoken, suggesting that Beijing may be hedging for a change of government. On February 1, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said that Beijing had been in contact with all sides in the Venezuelan crisis.
Guaido, President of the National Assembly, Venezuela’s legislature, had called the elections that returned Maduro to power illegitimate and declared himself interim President of Venezuela on January 23. Despite mass protests against his government, Maduro has refused to step down. In the following days, the United States and most Latin American countries recognized Guaido as Venezuela’s President, and several EU countries including Germany, France and the UK followed suite in early February.
China’s cautious stance may signal that China is more concerned about its economic interests than about maintaining solidarity with the socialist regime of Maduro who took over after the death of his mentor Hugo Chavez in 2013. Over the past 10 years, China, attracted by Venezuela’s rich natural resources, has invested heavily in projects in the country, many of which, however, were not completed, dotting the country with eerie abandoned construction sites.
But today it appears likely that Venezuela might default on a big portion of the more than 50 billion USD in outstanding Chinese loans. After profiting from the commodities boom of the early 2000s, Venezuela entered long years of economic crisis. The loans from China were partly to be paid back through oil shipments, but due to production problems Venezuela has not been able to fulfill its obligations, leading to a declining share of Chinese oil imports supplied by Venezuela (2017: 5%, 2018: 3.6%).
In the interview, Guaido said that Chinese projects in Venezuela were failing because of the Maduro government’s corruption and “plundering of our state resources.” His pledge to restore transparency also contained a warning note to Beijing when he vowed to review whether agreements with China had been signed in adherence to “due process.”
MERICS analysis: MERICS Belt and Road Tracker.