At the news of the death of Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías, the strongman that ruled Venezuela for 14 years, President Hu Jintao, Party head Xi Jinping and National People’s Congress Chairman Wu Bangguo sent messages of condolence to Vice-President Nicolas Maduro. In addition, Yu Zhengsheng, No 4 in the new Chinese leadership, led State Councilor Dai Bingguo and Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi to the Venezuelan embassy in Beijing to express their condolences; and CCTV highlighted the news of Chavez’s death in its best-viewed program. China has not given such a high-profile response China to the death of any leader of any country in recent years except that of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.
China also lost no time in following up on the response. Zhang Ping, head of the National Development and Reform Commission, was sent as the special envoy of President Hu to Venezuela for Chavez’s funeral on March 8. Officially, the National Development and Reform Commission comes third in the line of China’s government bodies. In actuality, it commands an even higher position and has been commonly recognized as the ‘lesser cabinet’ for its supreme authority over the examination and approval of key projects of overseas investment, foreign aid and international cooperation. Zhang Ping is also the most senior of all the ministers in the State Council, and, having taken part in all the high-level visits and talks between China and Venezuela since 2008, he is familiar with the key matters concerning Sino-Venezuelan cooperation.
China’s response to Chavez’s death signifies the explicit support and close attention that the country places on the stability of Venezuela after its loss of a great leader. China and Venezuela are ‘strategic partners in the boat of common development,’ with the former being the latter’s second biggest oil importer and the latter being the former’s fourth biggest oil supplier. Thanks to their innovative credit models, the two countries have also achieved win-win cooperation in trade, science and technology, infrastructure development, and other fields in recent years; benefiting their people and satisfying their respective development demands. Particularly in the wake of the financial crisis, their cooperation played an important role in growing their economies, and diversifying their extraterritorial operations. This is in accordance with the general trend of South-South cooperation in the world economy.
Given the facts, this author believes that Sino-Venezuelan relations after Chavez will feature mutual trust and down-to-earth cooperation.
First of all, the ruling Venezuelan United Socialist Party sees China’s rise as a vital opportunity for Venezuela’s development, and has a strong desire to further cooperation with China. If he wins the general election scheduled for mid-April, Maduro and his team will surely commit themselves to advancing Venezuela’s strategic cooperation with China, an effort that not only constitutes a part of Chavez’s legacy but also has a direct bearing on Venezuela’s core interests, such as the sustainable development of its economy and society, and its foreign relations. So far as China is concerned, policy continuation in Venezuela will benefit China’s business and diplomatic interests in Venezuela.
Secondly, there will not be a major reversal of Sino-Venezuelan relations, even if the Venezuelan opposition wins the general election and comes into power. Since the opposition once criticized China for a lack of transparency in its lending terms, and accused Chavez of violating the Venezuelan constitution, it might not be so enthusiastic about cooperating with China, or even playing small tricks when implementing existing agreements. Given the current structure of the Venezuelan economy and its reliance on external markets, there will likely be a rational return of the country’s policy to two basic directions: a boost of national interests and an improvement in people’s life. Sino-Venezuelan cooperation caters to the fundamental interests of the two countries’ respective development, and accords with the law of a market economy, a fact no political force in Venezuela can deny.
Last but not least, the history of Sino-Venezuelan cooperation has proved the rationality of international politics, an essential feature many Western observers have failed to fully understand or have frequently ignored. What comes first is equality. All trade, technical and personnel exchanges or intellectual cooperation, for instance, are negotiated and implemented on the basis of mutual respect and independent decision-making. The two countries have never cooperated for ideological reasons, nor joined forces to elbow out or compete against a third party, a fact evidenced by China’s trade investment in Venezuela. Chinese companies have invested in Venezuelan’s oil and gas development projects, either through independent bidding or joint participation with Western companies. Meanwhile, China has been fairly transparent in its policy on Venezuela and Latin America as a whole. Over the past decade its foreign ministry, for instance, has completed mechanisms for regular dialogue and policy exchanges with the United States, the European Union and Japan. Some academic institutions in China and the United States have also worked out mechanisms for joint study of Latin America, and the visits and exchanges between Chinese scholars with their US, European, Japanese and South Korean peers have grown. What has impressed this author is that through such visits and exchanges, these scholars have come to gain a better understanding and deeper trust of each other, and have looked for closer cooperation in their Latin America study for common good. What is desired of their future efforts is greater cooperation in the media sector, in order to tell true stories about China-Venezuela cooperation.
Wu Baiyi is a fellow researcher with the Latin America Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences