The outsized ambitions and scale of the China-Venezuela political and financial relationship in the twenty-first century have meant that its failures and disappointments have been correspondingly large. This report explores how the nations came to be involved, how each side has responded to Venezuela’s extended economic and political crisis, and the implications for the future of the bilateral relationship and for China’s aspirations to be a leader and agent of international development.

Venezuela’s foreign minister, Jorge Arreaza, (left) meets with Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi in Beijing on January 16, 2020. (Ng Han Guan/AP)
Venezuela’s foreign minister, Jorge Arreaza, (left) meets with Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi in Beijing on January 16, 2020. (Ng Han Guan/AP)

Summary

  • China’s industrialization boom in the early 2000s created new opportunities for its resource-rich trade partners in Latin America and Africa. Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, seeking new diplomatic and oil collaborations with China and Russia, was enthusiastic about advances from China.
  • Both sides miscalculated the risks and rewards of a partnership focused on oil and diplomatic ties. By the time of Chávez’s death, the relationship was already experiencing growing frictions. Rather than admit to difficulties or mistakes, Chinese and Venezuelan leaders have stubbornly stuck with the status quo.
  • China has attempted to balance low-key support for Nicolás Maduro’s government—thereby helping prolong Chavista economic and political misrule—with efforts to minimize the financial and reputational damage resulting from its long-term support for Chávez and Maduro.
  • The Venezuelan opposition has pointed to the lose-lose outcomes of the relationship while emphasizing that China still has an opportunity to make a positive contribution to Venezuelan development and peace if it changes course.
  • The Trump administration’s support for Juan Guaidó over Maduro, however, means that Venezuela will remain a key site for the rapidly expanding strategic rivalry between the United States and China.

About the Report

This report examines China’s relationship with Venezuela during the Chávez and Maduro regimes and the consequences for both countries. The report is based on more than eight years of research and interviews with government officials, businesspeople, sector analysts, and academic researchers from China, Venezuela, and the United States. It was funded by the China program at the United States Institute of Peace.

About the Author

Matt Ferchen is Head of Global China Research at the Mercator Institute for China Studies, Berlin. Previously he was a scholar with the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy and an associate professor in the Department of International Relations at Tsinghua University, both in Beijing.

Related Publications

Whither NATO at 75?

Whither NATO at 75?

Thursday, April 11, 2024

By: Ambassador William B. Taylor;  Mirna Galic

NATO marked its 75th anniversary last week at a celebration in Brussels. While Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has injected the alliance with new life and resolve, the 32-member collective security pact is also wrestling with its future in a world of growing great power competition. In 2022, NATO formally identified for the first time China as a challenge to its interests and collective security. As NATO continues to support Ukraine and look to future global challenges, it also has internal issues to address, ranging from individual member defense spending to the problems posed by the need for collective decision-making among 32 members.

Type: Question and Answer

Global Policy

Myanmar’s Collapsing Military Creates a Crisis on China’s Border

Myanmar’s Collapsing Military Creates a Crisis on China’s Border

Thursday, April 11, 2024

By: Jason Tower

Operation 1027 — an offensive launched in October 2023 by an alliance of three ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) against the military junta in Myanmar — has disrupted hundreds of forced labor scam syndicates operating under the protection of Myanmar’s army, dented the army’s image of invincibility and decimated the lucrative China-Myanmar border trade. A second operation launched on March 7 by another EAO in Kachin State has compounded China’s economic woes by adding to the impact on trade.

Type: Analysis

Global Policy

A Small State Heavyweight? How Singapore Handles U.S.-China Rivalry

A Small State Heavyweight? How Singapore Handles U.S.-China Rivalry

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

By: Terence Lee, Ph.D.

Alice Ba pertinently observes in her introductory essay to this series that Southeast Asia has become a key arena in the ongoing U.S.-China rivalry; regional countries are under growing pressure to choose between the two powers. For Singapore, this competition has provoked a debate on the extent of agency in the conduct of the city-state’s foreign policy. Two perspectives have emerged in this regard.

Type: Analysis

Global Policy

View All Publications