BEIJING—Hugo Chavez, the anti-U.S. leader of Venezuela, on Friday pledged a major increase in oil shipments to China and said China had agreed to back his country's bid for a seat on the U.N. Security Council, something the Bush administration opposes.
China didn't publicly confirm its support for Venezuela's U.N. efforts, which will come to a vote in October, and there was skepticism that China had the refining capabilities to handle more heavy Venezuelan crude oil.
But Chavez's spirited assertion during a news conference here that his country intended to bolster China as a counterweight to the United States was in keeping with his consistently anti-American foreign policy pronouncements.
"We need a China that becomes bigger every day and becomes stronger every day," Chavez said on the third day of a five-day trip, his fourth visit here since 1999.
Chavez predicted that warming relations with the Asian giant would lead to the teaching of Chinese in Venezuelan schools and the airing of Chinese-made television programs in his country.
He said China offered his government credits to build 20,000 homes for the poor, assistance for rail construction, pledges to build computer and cellular telephone factories, and promises to help develop Venezuelan agriculture. He hailed what he called a broadening strategic relationship and added that "China's help is vital for Venezuela."
"The biggest part isn't what has been achieved, which is a lot," Chavez said. "It is the horizon that has opened for us."
Chinese President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao and other senior officials greeted Chavez warmly, but outside Chinese observers suggested it was unlikely that Beijing would risk harming relations with Washington by tilting toward Chavez, who's a popular but divisive figure even in Latin America.
One expert cast doubt on whether Venezuela, the world's fifth-largest oil exporter, could send huge quantities of oil to China, given the distance and the high sulfur content of its crude.
"These reports can't be true, as China does not have the refining capabilities to process Venezuelan crude and the distance is too far," Jiang Shixue, a Latin American expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the China Daily newspaper this week.
But Chavez and Energy and Petroleum Minister Rafael Ramirez were emphatic in asserting that Venezuela is on the road to becoming a major oil supplier for China.
Venezuela, which has the largest proven oil reserves in the Western Hemisphere, currently supplies China with 152,000 barrels of crude a day, barely a tenth of what it ships across the Gulf of Mexico to U.S. markets.
"By 2007, we will arrive at 300,000 barrels a day," Chavez said, and the spigot for China will open wider "until 2009, when a great leap will occur toward half a million barrels a day of petroleum" for Chinese markets. He added that Venezuela eventually hopes to provide China with a million barrels a day after 2012.
On Thursday, Hu and Chavez signed eight agreements, including a $1.3 billion accord for China to build 18 supertankers for Venezuela, and an additional plan to construct 12 offshore oil-drilling platforms.
Ramirez said the supertankers would be built within five years. In the interim, Venezuela is transporting oil aboard Chinese-owned tankers, he added.
"Our fundamental orientation is toward fulfilling Chinese demand," Ramirez said.
Chavez said the increased production wouldn't take away from the stream of crude now sent to the United States, given that Venezuela owns seven refineries along the Gulf Coast. But he said planned increases in Venezuelan production would go to China.
Chavez also lauded China for plans to launch a Venezuelan telecommunications satellite into orbit in 2008, giving Venezuela a media footprint that Chavez said would cover the Caribbean, Central America, all of South America and part of the United States.
Cultural alliances are also being studied, Chavez said, including the teaching of Chinese in Venezuelan schools, joint projects in cinema and the import of Chinese-made television programs dubbed in Spanish, the predominant language of Venezuela.
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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