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Exclusive: Sen. Marco Rubio: China ‘Controlling Defense Cyber Operations’ in Venezuela

Venezuela to bump China oil exports to one million barrels a day
Venezuelan Presidency/AFP Marcelo GARCIA
FRANCES MARTEL

The Chinese government has actively helped Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro control, censor, and shut down the Internet in his quest to keep the legitimate president of the country, Juan Guaidó, from governing, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) told Breitbart News in an interview Monday.

China’s ruling Communist Party has used its foreign relations arms to subtly distance itself from Maduro this year. Unlike neighboring Russia, which openly boasts of having intervened militarily in the country on Maduro’s behalf, China’s Foreign Ministry has stopped short of referring to Maduro as the nation’s president since Guaidó took office in January and took nearly a week to issue an official statement on the military uprising Guaidó called for on April 30. When it did, it urged a “peaceful settlement” without offering any specific statement of support for either Maduro or Guaidó.

Rubio suggested that Beijing may be distancing itself from Maduro because the tide has shifted so definitively against him in Latin America that the rest of the region may sour on investments with China if it interferes to help him. That does not mean China is not helping Maduro, merely that it cannot afford the bad press, Rubio stated.

“The Chinese are very involved. First of all, they are owed a bunch of money, so they want to get paid,” he explained. “Number two is they are single-handedly helping conduct the Internet control operation. They have basically taken a commercial version of their great Internet firewall and given it to Maduro, and it is a service they are providing him, so they are the ones that are shutting down the Internet and access to social media.”

Maduro’s regime regularly cuts nationwide access to the Internet to prevent Guaidó and other opposition leaders from being able to communicate with the masses or organize rallies against him. Most Venezuelan opposition figures, like Maduro, are avid Twitter users. Last week, Guaidó used Twitter to broadcast live from La Carlota, an airbase outside of Caracas, and declare the final step in removing Maduro, which he branded “Operation Freedom.”

Guaidó, according to Rubio, has “no access to the media. Any time he tries to speak or communicate on social media, they shut down the Internet. … Literally, every time he holds a rally, they shut down the Internet.”

As the Chinese are “single-handedly controlling the defensive cyber operations shutting down the Internet,” they are responsible for silencing Guaidó. Yet being more open about their role could jeopardize investments in other parts of the continent.

“The Chinese play a tricky game because on the one hand, they are trying to grow in influence and presence throughout Latin America, so they are seeing all of these countries supporting Guaidó, and they don’t want to … antagonize these countries by being cheerleaders for the Maduro regime,” Rubio noted.

“On the other hand, they view Venezuela as a place of strategic importance because they have an existing leverage relationship with him [Maduro], they’re there on the ground, and the notion in their mind is they need to be against what they view as any American efforts to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries.”

“That is not the case here, but that is how they view it because they think that, if they allow that [re-democratization] to happen in one place, that would be a predicate for it to happen in other places, including, potentially, China itself,” he said. “So the game they’re playing is, they don’t want to upset the Colombians, they don’t want to upset the Panamanians, they look at the list of countries that are against Maduro, so they don’t want to harm their relationships with those countries by being too far out there.”

The lukewarm tenor of the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s remarks on Venezuela continued Tuesday.

“On the Venezuela issue, China upholds the UN Charter and the basic norms governing international relations,” spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters. “We insist that this issue should be resolved through inclusive political dialogue and consultation under Venezuela’s constitution between the government and the opposition independently. We stand against external interference and unilateral sanctions.”

Geng once again did not name either Guaidó or Maduro. Instead, he claimed that China stood alongside the European Union, which backs Guaidó, and promised China would “step up communication and work together in a constructive manner with the international community including the EU for the political settlement.”

China has invested billions, officially and through its corporate entities, in Venezuela’s socialist regime, both under Maduro and predecessor Hugo Chávez. Maduro’s incompetent handling of the economy scared Chinese money away for most of 2017 and 2018, but, late last year, China agreed to hand Maduro a $5 billion loan in exchange for one million barrels of oil, according to Maduro himself.

In addition to allegedly controlling the Venezuelan Internet, the Chinese government used telecommunications giant ZTE to build a replica of its “social credit system” – which allots points to individuals based on how much the government likes them and prevents them from access to basic societal services if their point totals drop too low – for Maduro.

The socialist government branded the new system the “Fatherland Card.” It gives the regime control over what Venezuelans buy and helps track Venezuelans’ public statements, social media, and anything that can be interpreted as political activity. Without the card, Venezuelans cannot access the little food, medical care, and fuel left in the country.

Outside of Venezuela, Beijing has worked to promote its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in Latin America. While the BRI is nominally intended to rebuild the Ancient Silk Road – the major trade route connecting Asia to Europe – Chinese officials have convinced several Latin American nations to agree to major infrastructure projects in the region. As the preeminent communist country in the region, Cuba has taken the lead in promoting BRI, but 18 Latin American countries have joined to varying degrees, agreeing to pay China to build ports, roads, and railways.

In February, Adm. Kurt Tidd, the head of the Pentagon’s Southern Command, described Belt and Road as providing “ample opportunity for China to expand its influence over key regional partners and promote unfair business and labor practices.”

“Increased reach to key global access points like Panama create commercial and security vulnerabilities for the United States, as do Chinese telecommunications and space ventures with dual-use potential, which could facilitate intelligence collection, compromise communication networks, and ultimately constrain our ability to work with our partners,” he warned.

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