The streets were cleared of cars and thousands of people peered curiously at Venezuela’s controversial president whizzing through Shanghai on a trip Sunday to drum up business for his nation’s ailing economy.
President Hugo Chavez, a former army paratrooper who has been raising the role of the military in Venezuelan society, referred repeatedly to Chinese revolutionary Mao Tse-tung during his meetings with Chinese officials.
“I have always been very Maoist,” Chavez told the Associated Press during the journey from Caracas to Shanghai, “in the sense that the people to the army is like water to fish.”
The president is on a two-week tour of Asia that also will take him to Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines.
He is traveling with Venezuelan executives who plan to discuss increasing trade and investment ties with Asia in an attempt to help jump-start the Venezuelan economy, which shrank by 10 percent in the first half of 1999.
Energy and Mines Minister Ali Rodriguez told the AP that Venezuela is in the process of selling China 200 tons of the tar-based fuel called Orimulsion to be used in Chinese steel and cement factories.
Trade between the two countries has been virtually nonexistent in the past few years, except for Chinese participation in two Venezuelan oil fields. Chavez said he hoped his visit will reverse that trend.
The president also is trying to allay fears that he is leading the South American nation toward authoritarian rule. Chavez, who staged a failed military coup seven years ago, is shaking up his country’s institutions by promoting a new constitution that will replace the current legislature and court system.
Several business leaders traveling with Chavez said his decision to invite them along was a positive sign that the left-leaning president is finally beginning to build bridges to the private sector.
But during the long flight to China, the president spoke only briefly with the businessmen. Instead, he made small talk with flight attendants and a group of chefs and musicians who are on the trip to share Venezuelan culture with Asians.
In Shanghai, Chavez was briefed by Jia Neng Li, a city official who went through a litany of economic successes in the eastern Pudong section. Chavez told Jia that China had been successful in combining capitalism and socialism.
“We are witnessing the triumph of the Chinese revolution,” Chavez said.
The trip included a stop in Alaska, which distributes proceeds from oil revenue to eligible residents. Similarly, Chavez has set up a fund to cushion the effects of low petroleum prices on Venezuela’s oil-dependent economy.
“We live and die on the price of oil as well,” said Jane Angvik, a member of the Alaska delegation that met with Chavez on Saturday.