China and Venezuela continue to deepen their relations, this time during a meeting between Nicolás Maduro and a delegation from the Communist Party of China (CPC) in mid-May. Maduro received the senior Chinese officials at the Miraflores Palace in Caracas with a view to deepening political relations between both countries.
The envoys from Beijing — Venezuela’s largest creditor — met with Maduro’s advisors to discuss “the restructuring of the credit line” of the country. They also talked about “potential areas for renewed bilateral collaboration, such as telecommunications and oil,” Argentine news site Infobae reported, citing sources who asked not to be identified.
Venezuela has the world’s largest known oil reserves, according to Statista, but is subject to international sanctions restricting the sale of crude. “A detente in relations with China would offer Maduro a powerful ally, as well as the possibility of a new conduit for oil sales,” Infobae reported.
Threat to democracy
Analysts say the meeting also responded to Caracas and Beijing’s political and strategic interests. “It’s obvious that Maduro intends to stay in power indefinitely. The pressure of international sanctions is the main obstacle forcing him to negotiate with the Venezuelan opposition,” Luis Fleischman, professor of sociology at Palm Beach State University in Florida, told Diálogo.
According to Fleischman, China offers Maduro a way out of the sanctions and would “help him get out of the hole” in which he finds himself. “Of course that is Maduro’s intention. It’s not clear how long it would take Venezuela to get out of the hole, or [whether] Maduro simply wants to continue in power at the expense of Venezuelan misery. I’m leaning toward the latter,” Fleischman said. “China, for its part, is interested in supporting anti-U.S. regimes. And the less democratic the better.”
Cuba, Nicaragua, and El Salvador
In addition to Venezuela, Beijing has expanded its influence on other Central American and Caribbean nations, Central American think tank Expediente Abierto indicated in a June 2023 report. “A clear example [of this] is manifested in the diplomatic offensive in which several regional governments have cut relations with the Republic of China/Taiwan and recognized the People’s Republic of China,” the report says.
Among these governments are Cuba, Nicaragua, and El Salvador — China’s biggest points of interest in the region,” the Expediente Abierto report said. “In the case of Cuba, although its economic situation does not allow it to acquire new military weaponry, Havana and Beijing maintain good relations in several areas. In the last decade, both governments have signed cooperation agreements on defense issues,” the report indicates.
In the case of El Salvador and Nicaragua, access to the Chinese market and promises of Chinese investments were determining factors for the rupture of relations with Taiwan, according to the document.
Naval military presence
“While China has not been very successful in its defense and security approaches in Central America and the Caribbean, it has the potential to become more active,” says analyst Wilder Alejandro Sánchez, author of an April 2023 investigation published by Expediente Abierto. “In extreme scenarios, a possible Chinese military presence in Central America would focus on the naval area,” Sánchez said.
“Instead of thinking about military installations with tanks or anti-missile systems, we should remember that maritime control is an interest of Beijing, not only in the Western Hemisphere but also worldwide,” the expert added.
China’s increased presence in the Americas has also brought another threat: espionage. In February, two hot-air balloons were detected flying over different countries. The first balloon raised alarms by violating U.S. and Canadian airspace. U.S. fighter jets shot it down over the waters off the coast of South Carolina on February 4, CNN en Español reported.
“The second balloon, which very few people commented on, violated the airspace of at least three Latin American countries: Costa Rica, Colombia and Venezuela,” Joseph Humire, director of U.S. think tank Center for a Secure Free Society (SFS), told The Epoch Times.
Like the Chinese spy balloon that entered the United States, the second balloon flew over sensitive military and security infrastructure in Latin America. For example, it flew over Costa Rica’s Coast Guard and Colombia’s Combat Air Command No. 3, “both of which are responsible for maritime drug interdiction operations [among others] along the sensitive and contested maritime border between Colombia and Nicaragua,” the VRIC Monitor report published by SFS indicated. But unlike the United States, where there was a lot of tension and complaints, the second globe has had little to no public reaction.
“And this is a card that China plays to its advantage,” Humire concluded.