U.S. fears China-Chavez oil al­liance

The Washington Times Weekly - - Front Page - By Bill Gertz

The visit to China by Venezue­lan Pres­i­dent Hugo Chavez last week was be­ing watched closely by U.S. na­tional se­cu­rity of­fi­cials who are con­cerned that Bei­jing is in­creas­ing its back­ing for the left­ist leader.

A de­fense of­fi­cial in­volved in Asian af­fairs said the visit to Bei­jing by Mr. Chavez is part of China’s strat­egy of form­ing coali­tions aimed at con­trol­ling re­source mar­kets — in Venezuela’s case, ac­cess to oil.

“China does not be­lieve in free mar­kets and wants to lock up ac­cess to them,” the of­fi­cial said. He noted that Bei­jing thinks the United States is try­ing to block ac­cess to in­ter­na­tional en­ergy and other re­sources as part of a con­tain­ment strat­egy de­signed to pre­vent the emer­gence of a threat­en­ing China.

In Bei­jing on Aug. 24, Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Hu Jin­tao warmly wel­comed Mr. Chavez, who has pro­posed an am­bi­tious plan for his coun­try to al­most quadru­ple sales to China to 1 mil­lion bar­rels per day in the next decade.

“I be­lieve that, through your visit, the two coun­tries’ co­op­er­a­tion in all as­pects can be pro­moted,” Mr. Hu told the Venezue­lan leader at the Great Hall of the Peo­ple, the As­so­ci­ated Press re­ported from Bei­jing.

Mr. Chavez re­sponded by say­ing that “mu­tual trust be­tween our two coun­tries has been deep­en­ing, and the eco­nomic and cul­tural ex­changes have been strength­en­ing.”

Mr. Chavez told re­porters that he hoped to be ex­port­ing 500,000 bar­rels of oil per day to China by 2009.

“And in the next decade, we will aim for a mil­lion bar­rels,” he said.

Mr. Chavez also sought and won Bei­jing’s back­ing for Venezuela’s bid for a non­per­ma­nent seat on the U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil next year, some­thing the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion op­poses.

China views sour­ing re­la­tions be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Cara­cas as a strate­gic op­por­tu­nity and is cau­tiously coax­ing Mr. Chavez into re­duc­ing Venezuela’s cur­rent large ex­ports to the United States, the de­fense of­fi­cial said.

Cur­rently, Venezuela ships about 1.5 mil­lion bar­rels of oil a day to the United States, ac­count­ing for about 10 per­cent of all U.S. oil im­ports.

The Chavez gov­ern­ment ear­lier this year threat­ened to cur­tail oil ex­ports to the United States over con­cerns that the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion was plan­ning to in­vade Venezuela or oth­er­wise oust the left­ist gov­ern­ment.

Mr. Chavez has em­barked on a ma­jor arms buildup that in­cludes pur­chases of Rus­sian, Euro­pean and Chi­nese weapons.

Richard Fisher, a spe­cial­ist on the Chi­nese mil­i­tary with the In­ter­na­tional As­sess­ment and Strat­egy Cen­ter, noted that Mr. Chavez said ear­lier this year that he would con­sider buy­ing Chi­nese jet fight­ers in ad­di­tion to 24 Su-30 fighter bombers pur­chased as part of a $3 bil­lion deal with Rus­sia.

The­first of three ad­vanced lon­grange air de­fense radar pur­chased from China last year are ex­pected to ar­rive in Venezuela in Septem­ber, and the Venezue­lan mil­i­tary plans to buy as many as seven more JYL-1 radar by next year, U.S. of­fi­cials said.

Ad­di­tional weapons pur­chases likely will be dis­cussed dur­ing Mr. Chavez’s meet­ings with Chi­nese lead­ers, in­clud­ing Mr. Hu.

The pur­chases fol­lowed a Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion de­ci­sion to block sales of spare parts from the United States for Venezuela’s F-16 jets.

“Within the next two to three years, China will be able to of­fer in­te­grated air de­fense sys­tems, from satel­lites to [air­borne warn­ing and con­trols sys­tems], to fight­ers and [sur­face-to-air mis­siles], and naval weapons,” Mr. Fisher said.

China’s sale of mil­i­tary equip­ment to Venezuela ap­pears to con­tra­dict a pledge madeby Bei­jing of­fi­cials to the U.S. gov­ern­ment ear­lier this year.

Thomas A. Shan­non, as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of state for West­ern Hemi­sphere af­fairs, told The Wash­ing­ton Times re­cently that China in­formed the United States it is “not in­ter­ested in po­lit­i­cal or mil­i­tary ad­ven­tures” in Latin Amer­ica and other de­vel­op­ing ar­eas of the world.

Re­cent ef­forts to en­tice China’s gov­ern­ment into join­ing the United States in help­ing pro­mote global sta­bil­ity have failed, U.S. of­fi­cials said. High-level U.S.-China talks aimed at pro­mot­ing the con­cept of China join­ing the United States as a “stake­holder” in world af­fairs were re­buffed by the Chi­nese dur­ing re­cent talks with Deputy Sec­re­tary of State Robert B. Zoel­leck.

There are also con­cerns that the close ties be­tween Venezuela and Cuba will lead to covert arms sup­plies from China to Cuba through Venezuela.

China has de­liv­ered some mil­i­tary goods to Cuba since the 1990s, ac­cord­ing to U.S. of­fi­cials.

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