'Maoist' Chavez nurtures Venezuelan ties with China on visit

McClatchy NewspapersSeptember 23, 2008 

BEIJING — Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez arrived in China on a three-day state visit Tuesday, declaring himself a "Maoist" moments after touching down and touting what he said was China's support for a strategy to end U.S. domination of world affairs.

In a sign of strengthening energy ties between the countries, Chavez said the two would jointly build oil tankers and that Venezuela would help China build a refinery to process Venezuelan heavy crude oil.

He hailed China's plans to launch a telecommunications satellite for Venezuela on Nov. 1.

Chavez is expected to iron out a deal to purchase two squadrons of Chinese-built Karakorum-8 trainer jets and ground radar, a move that U.S. analysts said would open the door for greater Chinese military involvement in Venezuela.

China declined to confirm the sale, and generally played down the Chavez visit, saying it wasn't seeking to give the firebrand Venezuelan leader a platform to step up his confrontation with Washington.

President Hu Jintao will receive Chavez on Wednesday after envoys of the two countries sign more than 20 agreements on agriculture, food processing, military assistance, telecommunications and other matters.

China's voracious appetite for energy has fueled growing two-way trade with oil-rich Venezuela, its sixth-biggest trade partner in Latin America. Bilateral trade hit $5.9 billion last year, and Chavez said it was likely to hit $8 billion this year.

Within minutes of touching down in Beijing, Chavez declared himself an "anti-imperialist" and made constant allusions to his battles with the Bush administration, saying China's rise "has shown the world that one doesn't have to attack anyone to become a great power."

A self-styled revolutionary, Chavez hailed Mao Zedong, the communist founder of modern China, whom many Chinese view as irrelevant nowadays as they chase wealth.

"We are offering tribute in the land of Mao," the former army paratrooper said. "I am a Maoist."

Last Sunday, before leaving on a five-nation journey that began in Cuba and also will take him to Russia, France and Portugal, Chavez said Caracas planned to buy 24 K-8 two-seat jet trainers from Beijing.

The K-8, equipped with machine guns and small bombs, can serve as a light attack aircraft. Jointly developed by China and Pakistan, the jet trainer already is in the militaries of Egypt, Zimbabwe, Sudan and Sri Lanka.

"The K-8s are accompanied by sale of radar, which is a way for the (People's Liberation Army) to get into the electronic infrastructure of Venezuela," said Richard Fisher, a military analyst on China at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, a Washington research center.

"This is just the beginning of a trend," Fisher said, adding that he expected China in the future to offer to sell Chengdu J-10 jet fighters to Venezuela to replace its aging squad of U.S. F-16s, which Caracas no longer can maintain because of a U.S. blockade on military sales.

Venezuela originally sought to buy Brazilian-made Super Tucano jet trainers but Washington quashed the deal because that trainer has U.S. components.

Riding a crest of oil revenue, Chavez increasingly has turned to Russia for weapons, buying attack and transport helicopters and 24 Sukhoi Su-30 fighters. In moves harking back to tensions of the Cold War era, Russia deployed two strategic bombers to Venezuela earlier this month and dispatched a naval squadron Monday to hold joint maneuvers with Venezuela's navy.

Chavez gave few details on the refineries or the oil tankers that he said Venezuela and China would build together, saying only that he expected his nation's oil exports to China to hit 500,000 barrels a day by next year and a million barrels daily within four years.

Chavez described the strengthening of ties with China as "gigantic" and said the two nations shared a common strategy that he suggested would reduce U.S. influence.

"We are advancing a clear international strategy. China and Venezuela coincide on this — a multipolar world," Chavez said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said Beijing didn't seek for its warm relations with Caracas to interfere with its relations with Washington.

"Our bilateral relations are not based on ideology, and are not against any third party and will not affect any other country's relations with Venezuela," Jiang said.

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