“China’s bankrolling of the Maduro regime helped precipitate and prolong the crisis in that country. China invested over $60 billion–$60 billion–with no strings attached,” Pompeo said in an April 12 speech. This figure is often cited as the amount of loans and business deals that China has signed with Venezuela since the turn of the century.
The secretary of state added: “It’s no surprise that Maduro used the money for tasks like paying off cronies, crushing pro-democracy activists, and funding ineffective social programs.”
After more than two decades of socialist policies, Venezuela is in a socio-economic crisis marked by food shortages and hyperinflation. The crisis led to Juan Guaidó, leader of Venezuela’s opposition-controlled National Assembly, to declare himself acting president on Jan. 23, to challenge Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro, who has been in power since 2013.
Since then, more than 50 countries, including the United States, Argentina, and Brazil, have recognized Guaidó. A number of countries, including Russia and China, have voiced their support for Maduro. The latter has criticized the United States for “meddling” in the South American country.
Pompeo had strong words in response to those accusations: “China and others are being hypocritical calling for non-intervention in Venezuela’s affairs. Their own financial interventions have helped destroy that country.”
According to Reuters, Venezuela is sitting on about $150 billion of debt, of which China is the largest creditor. Chinese loans have financed infrastructure projects, factory construction, and, under former leader Hugo Chávez, handout programs to the poor.
Pompeo’s concerns were echoed by U.S. Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who spoke about the future of Venezuela at the Washington-based think tank American Enterprise Institute on April 11.
“China evades sanctions we have placed on the [Maduro] regime by investing in the country and extending generous loans to prop up the dictatorship in Caracas,” Scott said.
Scott warned that the United States can’t allow China, as well as Russia and Cuba, to “gain a foothold in Venezuela,” for they not only see Venezuela as an “economic opportunity,” but “a chance to intimidate the United States.”
Beijing’s Military Support
Beijing has been one of Venezuela’s biggest military suppliers in recent years. According to an April 9 article by Foreign Policy magazine, citing data from the U.S. military, China has sold more than $615 million in weapons to Venezuela over the past 10 years.
Details of China’s military sales to Venezuela were disclosed in September 2017, when Evan Ellis, senior associate at the Washington-based think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies, testified at a congressional hearing.
China has supplied Venezuela with conventional weapons systems and munitions, as well as “riot control vehicles and other equipment for helping the regime to put down protests,” according to Ellis. Some of the conventional weapons include military radars, fighter jets, and rocket launchers.
Large portions of the Chinese weapons sold since 2014, such as armed cars and pistols, have gone to the Maduro regime’s “Bolivarian National Guard,” which is known for suppressing civilian protests.
Human-rights groups such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International have identified the Bolivarian National Guard, a military security force, for excessive use of force against demonstrators. According to HRW, Venezuelan police and the Bolivarian National Guard carried out raids throughout neighborhoods in 2015 that led to extrajudicial killings and mass arbitrary detentions.
In addition to selling weapons, Beijing also has provided technical training and military exercises in China for Venezuelan officers, according to Ellis. For instance, in July 2017, airborne troops from seven countries, including Venezuela, Russia, and Iran, took part in a military contest in Guangshui City in central China’s Hubei Province, according to the Chinese regime’s mouthpiece newspaper People’s Daily.
“There is no other actor in Latin America, with the possible exception of the Cubans, who as much controls the fate of Nicolás Maduro and his henchmen as China does,” Ellis told Foreign Policy.
Four-star U.S. Navy Adm. Craig Faller, who is head of the U.S. Southern Command, also warned of China’s threat to Venezuela and elsewhere, in comments to Foreign Policy.
“I think the biggest threat to democracy and the way of life around the world is the trend that we see in China,” Faller said.