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China's Xi in Venezuela seeking trade, oil deals

Chinese President Xi Jinping is set to meet the head of Venezuela's National Assembly on Monday (July 21) and sign agreements that will tie his energy-hungry country to the South American oil-rich state.

CARACAS: Chinese President Xi Jinping is set to meet the head of Venezuela's National Assembly on Monday (July 21) and sign agreements that will tie his energy-hungry country to the South American oil-rich state.

Xi's meeting with Diosdado Cabello comes on the last day of his two-day visit, and after he and President Nicolas Maduro agreed to increase ties between their countries to the level of "comprehensive strategic partnership".

Xi and Maduro also agreed to "intensify financial cooperation" and increase cooperation in the field of energy, Xi said at a press conference on Sunday (July 20). Maduro in turn praised China at the event as the "most important emerging economic power in the 21st century."

China is the second-largest market for Venezuelan oil after the United States, with an average daily volume of 640,000 barrels -- in part to pay off Venezuela's US$17 billion (S$21.1 billion) debt with Beijing. The trade partners aim to increase the exports in the coming years to one million barrels a day. Bilateral trade between China and Venezuela has been steadily rising, exceeding US$20 billion (S$24.8 billion) in 2012.

Xi hopes to deepen ties with Venezuela just as its ties with the United States - the region's traditional political and economic powerhouse - are at a low point. Washington and Caracas have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010. Relations which suffered during the leadership of late president Hugo Chavez have not improved under his successor, Maduro.

LATIN AMERICA TRADE DEALS

The Chinese leader's charm offensive earlier took him to Brazil and Argentina seeking to secure new bilateral trade deals, particularly for coveted raw materials. Xi traveled to Brazil in mid-July for a summit of the BRICS group of emerging powers - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa - and South American presidents.

The gathering saw the countries agree to launch a New Development Bank to fund infrastructure projects in developing nations as well as an emergency reserve, drawing praise from Latin American leaders who see them as alternatives to Western-dominated financial institutions.

After the summit, Xi signed deals with Brazil, met with regional leaders and proposed a US$20 billion (S$24.8 billion) infrastructure fund that highlights Beijing's growing interests in the region.

Xi then went to Argentina for a three-day visit, where he and President Cristina Kirchner signed more than 20 trade deals in hydropower, marine and rail industries worth US$7 billion (S$8.69 billion). The two nations also announced a deal to help Argentina build its fourth nuclear plant.

Beijing will contribute US$4.4 billion (S$5.46 billion) toward the construction of two hydroelectric dams in Argentina's southern Santa Cruz province and an additional US$2.1 billion (S$2.61 billion) to remodel strategic rail transportation for carrying goods, especially food.

VISIT TO HAVANA

Later on Monday, Xi heads to longtime communist ally Cuba, where he is to announce plans to build a factory producing "biosensors" for monitoring the blood of diabetics and other patients suffering from chronic illness, Cuban media reported.

Xi will spend two days Cuba, the last stop of his tour. A group of Chinese business leaders who have expressed a strong interest in investing in the island will be accompanying Xi, reports said.

This is Xi's second visit to Latin America since taking office in 2013. Last year, Xi toured Mexico and Costa Rica, as well as Trinidad and Tobago.

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