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Chavez Says China Backs Security Council Bid

Times Staff Writer

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Thursday that China endorsed his nation’s bid to win a seat on the United Nations Security Council, a move strongly opposed by the United States.

The announcement came as Chavez outlined a dozen bilateral trade deals at the close of his state visit to Beijing, including plans to triple oil exports to China by 2010.

Chavez said he saw stronger relations with China as a means of creating a “multi-polar” world and lessening the “hegemony” of the United States.

“We are creating a strategic alliance with the strength of the Great Wall,” Chavez told a meeting of Chinese and Venezuelan leaders. Earlier, Chavez told reporters that China was the second permanent Security Council member, after Russia, to support his U.N. bid. There was no official Chinese statement.

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The United States favors Guatemala for the rotating Latin American seat on the 15-member Security Council. U.S.-Venezuela relations have deteriorated in recent years and increasingly are marked by sniping on both sides.

The U.S. Embassy here has accused Chavez of waging a campaign of harassment against U.S. diplomats. On Thursday, the embassy formally protested what it called a breach of “diplomatic norms” after Venezuelan officials intercepted and searched an unspecified diplomatic shipment.

It is unclear how many votes Chavez can count on in the secret balloting in October. All 192 members of the General Assembly vote in rounds until a nation garners a two-thirds majority.

Several Latin American nations have come out against Chavez, including Colombia, a major recipient of U.S. aid. Brazil and Argentina support Venezuela’s bid. Chile has not publicly declared its position.

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The United States has said Chavez would be a disruptive and “non-consensus-building” member of the council, akin to Iran or Cuba.

Chavez counters that the United States opposes views that diverge from its own, especially in the same hemisphere.

What is certain is that China and Venezuela are strengthening commercial ties, especially in energy. Venezuela now exports to China 160,000 barrels a day of oil, refined fuels and a hydrocarbon called Orimulsion used in power plants, according to the official New China News Agency.

Venezuela last year exported 549 million barrels of crude oil and petroleum products to the United States and was the nation’s fourth-largest foreign supplier behind Canada, Mexico and Saudi Arabia, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, or EIA.

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Chavez told officials in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People that exports to China will rise to 500,000 barrels a day by 2009 and 1 million by 2016.

Venezuela accounts for a fraction of the estimated 2.9 million barrels of crude oil that the Asian giant is importing on average every day, with Angola, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Russia leading its list of foreign suppliers, according to the EIA.

China consumes about 7.4 million barrels of oil daily, an increase of 500,000 barrels a day compared with rates last year, according to the EIA.

The Asian nation is expected to account for more than a third of the global increase in annual oil demand this year and is aggressively trying to lock up new sources of crude.

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Industry analysts say China is also trying to reduce its reliance on Middle Eastern petroleum and has arranged for major supplies from Canada and Russia in recent years. In February, Angola surpassed Saudi Arabia as China’s top foreign supplier, the EIA said.

Some observers questioned whether Chavez can increase production and deliver on his promises. Production has been flat and much of it committed to long-term refining contracts. The bulk of Venezuela’s oil exports is heavy crude, which China is not accustomed to refining.

“Most of China’s refineries are designed to handle light sweet crudes. If Chavez plans to send heavy sour crude, this raises the question of whether China will invest in the necessary refining capacity,” said Erica S. Downs, a research fellow and China specialist at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

Venezuela’s state-run oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela, also announced that China would build 13 oil drilling platforms in a technology transfer deal that would train Venezuelans in the specialized construction.

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The Venezuelan state oil company signed a memorandum of understanding to buy 18 oil tankers from China.

The cost of the platforms and the tankers was not disclosed.

Chavez said before arriving in China that he hoped to buy oil platforms and a fleet of tankers. There is a worldwide shortage of platforms and drilling rigs, which Venezuela needs to expand production and increase capacity, said Francisco Monaldi, a Caracas-based energy analyst.

The purchase of the tankers is expected to enable Chavez to better control Venezuelan oil exports and avert the problems that occurred during the 2002 general strike, during which many non-Venezuelan tanker captains refused to call at Venezuelan oil ports.

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The two nations also announced plans to jointly develop a new heavy-oil field in the so-called Orinoco Belt. No value was announced for the project, but earlier such ventures have involved billions of dollars.


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