The Chinese government is keenly aware of the leftward pivot several Latin American countries have made in the past decade, and President Xi Jinping hopes to cement ties with several socialist leaders in the region on a trip to the continent next week, including Venezuela, Argentina, Cuba, and Brazil.
President Xi will be visiting Latin America specifically to participate in the BRICS trade summit, named for its participants: Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. During his stay in Fortaleza, Brazil, he is expected to have a bilateral meeting with that nation’s president Dilma Rousseff. According to Chinese media outlet Xinhua, Xi will discuss trade relations with Rousseff, and is quoted as praising Brazil’s economy and its strength as a growing power: “Brazil is an important emerging market… China and Brazil have common interest in promoting multi-polarization and the democratization of international relations.”
The visit will then continue with a tour to Argentina, Venezuela, and Cuba, according to China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Venezuela and Cuba are the two biggest strategic partners China has in the region, and Xi’s visit has been in preparations for months, since Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit to both nations in April. That visit followed an announcement by the Chinese government that it would begin an extended project to improve relations with the region and establish stronger trade ties. The Chinese government announced that it intended to establish a forum between China and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) before the end of 2014.
The visit to Venezuela comes at a time in which China, increasingly dependent on foreign oil, has found its sources of fuel increasingly vulnerable. China is the biggest purchaser of Iraqi oil, and now finds itself evacuating many of its employees and vowing solid support of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government against the growing threat of the Islamic State, a terrorist group (formerly known as Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham– ISIS) that has taken control of much of northern Iraq.
Similarly, China imported 8.9% more oil from Venezuela in 2014 than it had in 2013 to meet national demands. Venezuela, too, is a vulnerable state. Despite possessing the largest known oil reserves on the planet, the socialist government there has squandered millions in free oil for Cuba and done little to expand business ties. The result is the world’s largest inflation rate, ration cards, empty supermarkets, and the world’s second-highest murder rate.
Venezuela is unstable, so much so that even leftist allies in Latin America appear to be distancing themselves from President Nicolás Maduro’s mess. And an unstable Venezuela is an untrustworthy seller of fuel to China. With the Obama administration keeping a distance from the Venezuelan problem despite efforts by conservatives in Congress to sanction Maduro and his cronies for human rights violations, China now has the space to fill that void–as it did in Egypt in the aftermath of the “Arab Spring,” and as it does in Iraq now.