Sputnik discussed the conflicting reports with Dr. Ei Sun Oh, Senior Fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.
Sputnik: China has denied having had talks with the Venezuelan opposition; and actually they said that what the Wall Street Journal had reported as a meeting was actually fake news. What do you make of the emergence of that report? Are you convinced by it?
Ei Sun Oh: Typically, in such a situation where you are pitting the reputation of the Wall Street Journal against the words of the Chinese, for example, Foreign Ministry, there will be people who will subscribe to both versions of the story. But I think, typically, in situations like that, when you have these sort of countries which are important in terms of producing, for example, oil and so on, power transition; you have different interested parties, in this case major powers will be talking to all sides of the political divide. This is to ensure that the interests of, for example, these major powers would get protected, should there be a transition.
Sputnik: What reasons would the Chinese authorities have to actually meet with Venezuela? What are their interests in Venezuela?
Ei Sun Oh: China has obviously quite large portion of interests in Venezuela; after all, it's lending Venezuela billions of dollars in order for the sanctioned Venezuelan government and economy to move on. So, nowadays, of course, the situation in Venezuela is rather dicey; the incoming government and the opposition, who also claim themselves to be government. In such a situation where you have billions of dollars as debt lent to the country, of course, you should explore various options as to how to secure those debts, for example.
Sputnik: Venezuela owes a lot of money to Beijing and that's something that people know about; not only that but they're generally paying their loans back through oil. They're sending oil to Beijing but not for cash but to service existing debt. How worried should Beijing be and do you think that they are significantly concerned?
Ei Sun Oh: I think nowadays if you look around the world, China is probably the only country which is capable of lending money and investing in developing countries. The United States could do things in a sense of imposing sanctions and so on; but let's say when Venezuela transitions into a full-fledged democracy, I don't see the United States, for example, investing a lot of money in Venezuela. So, China, as you say, is the only game in town. So, the new Venezuelan government, for example, when it comes to be, will still have to negotiate with China, to keep China as an investor in Venezuela.
Sputnik: What are China's interests in the development of Venezuela going forward? Obviously, as an energy source, but are there any other interests as well?
Ei Sun Oh: Of course, Venezuela is a South American country and it's in the United States' backyard. So, when we look at these major powers, China, Russia, the US and so on, in addition to all these economic issues, we must also look at the geopolitical implications. I mean, nowadays the United States is imposing a lot of encirclements around China, ratcheting up China's neighbours and so on. Countries such as China, could reciprocate that with, for example, continuing their friendship with Venezuela and so on.
Sputnik: Can you characterise the relationship between Venezuela under the current official president Maduro and [China]? Has it been a good relationship?
Ei Sun Oh: China's relations with the late president Chavez and president Maduro are very close. Over the years, Chavez increasingly assumed an anti-American stance and China continued its relationship with Chavez and later with Maduro. I think it was just the second half of last year when Maduro needed some cash and he went to China to borrow that cash.
Ei Sun Oh: I think what Guaidó is saying is that even if, indeed, there's a democratic transition in Venezuela, then, assuming the fact that China is economically the only game in town, China will continue its economic relations with Venezuela. In a sense, Guaidó presents China and Russia rather well because they are making friends with all these newly democratic countries as well, and not just with those which are widely considered to be dictatorships.
Sputnik: Do you see China, perhaps, getting more involved in Venezuela through such project as the Belt and Road Initiative?
Ei Sun Oh: Over the past few years, certainly, China is getting more economically involved in Venezuela because the US is imposing sanctions and a lot of European countries are following suit, and Venezuela simply didn't have any other viable choice. So, they're accepting a lot of help and loans from China in order for their economy to even function.
The views and opinions expressed by the speaker do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.