Beijing Demands Protection as Venezuela’s Rioters Target Chinese Businesses

A worker cleans up what remains a Subway sandwich shop at the looted SuperLider commercial center in Maracay, Venezuela, Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014. People looted the commercial center starting Monday night, after almost two weeks of protests that began with students and were soon joined by others in several cities, …
AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd

The government of China has demanded that Venezuela make an effort to “restore social order” following a string of attacks against Chinese-owned businesses in cities like Bolívar, where the socialist government’s decision to invalidate the nation’s highest-denomination bolívar bill triggered riots that damaged hundreds of storefronts.

“China follows closely the situation in Venezuela. As a friendly country to Venezuela, we believe that its government and people are capable of handling domestic affairs and maintain national stability and development,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said during the ministry’s daily press conference on Monday, responding to a reporter’s question. Hua noted that, upon hearing of the mass looting of Chinese businesses, the Chinese embassy in Caracas “activated the emergency response mechanism” and demanded Venezuela take the threat seriously.

“The Venezuelan side took China’s requirement seriously and made expeditious moves,” Hua added. “The situation in Venezuela has subsided.”

Hundreds of Venezuelans began looting businesses on Friday after the government announced that the promised 500- to 20,000-bolívar bills would not arrive, but the 100-bolívar bill’s value was now void. In a nation where 72 percent of citizens cannot afford three meals a day, the announcement that the little money they did have was useless sparked violence and looting that spread far beyond food. Groceries, hardware stores, universities, and private residences were all looted over the weekend before Maduro announced that he would reinstate the 100-bolívar bill through January 2.

As The Wall Street Journal reports, Chinese-owned businesses in Bolívar city became prime targets for looters over the weekend, in part due to the prevalence of Chinese groceries in the area. “They took the stands, the carts, all of the merchandise, which was a lot, and the air conditioners,” China Cham supermarket owner Juan Carlos Ho told the Journal, noting that those he knows in Venezuela’s Chinese community are thinking of repatriating because “there’s nothing left and it’s not worth investing again.” Some locals, he adds, have accused the Chinese business owners of having a role in the abysmal economic situation Venezuela currently finds itself in, a claim witnesses speaking to Reuters echoed.

According to the Journal‘s tally, over 400 people were arrested for looting over the weekend, 300 in Bolívar alone. 350 stores registered disturbances in the region. Maduro blamed his American counterpart Barack Obama for the looting, claiming secret American agents were executing “Obama’s final blow” before leaving office. Socialist officials in the affected regions have argued similarly. “Hunger didn’t motivate this,” western Táchira governor José Vielma Mora said of the riots in his region. “Vandalism motivated this,” blaming the anti-socialist opposition and noting the many shops looted for non-edible goods.

China has played an outsized role in helping socialist president Nicolás Maduro stay in power. Just last week, Venezuela’s Higher Education, Science, and Technology minister Jorge Arreaza announced that China would be handing the agency a sizable new investment. It would be the latest in tens of billions China has invested in Venezuela: $57 billion since 2007, according to Forbes, which adds that Venezuela has been repaying these loans in oil, but that oil production under Maduro has slowed to a dangerous trickle. China has continued investing in the country, however, even offering goods like medicine, which Venezuelans are increasingly unable to acquire.