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Xi heads to Venezuela after inking trade deals with Argentina

China's President Xi Jinping departed Argentina on Sunday for Venezuela, the next-to-last stop of a Latin American tour aimed at bolstering trade with the region.

BUENOS AIRES: China's President Xi Jinping departed Argentina on Sunday for Venezuela, the next-to-last stop of a Latin American tour aimed at bolstering trade with the region.

The Chinese leader's charm offensive seeks to secure new bilateral trade deals - particularly for coveted raw materials.

Xi hopes to further develop his country's strategic relationship with Venezuela, just as Caracas' ties with the United States - the region's traditional political and economic powerhouse - are arguably at their lowest point ever.

The countries, which have not had ambassadors in each other's capitals since 2010, had poor relations during the leadership of late president Hugo Chavez and ties have remained strained under his successor, Nicolas Maduro.

Warming ties with Caracas

By contrast, relations have been warming between China and Venezuela where bilateral trade has been steadily rising, exceeding US$20 billion in 2012. Beijing now is also the second largest buyer of Venezuelan oil.

Xi's visit to Caracas is sandwiched between the Chinese leader's triumphant stay in Argentina, where he secured several major trade deals, and travel to longtime communist ally Cuba.

Xi heads Monday to 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.

HE will spend two days in Cuba, the last stop of his tour, the state-run Juventud Rebelde newspaper reported.

A group of Chinese business leaders who have expressed a strong interest in investing in the communist island will be accompanying Xi, reports said.

Trade, development deals

During his three-day Argentine visit, Xi and President Cristina Kirchner signed more than 20 trade deals in hydropower, marine and rail industries worth US$7 billion.

The Chinese leader hailed their bilateral relationship as one of "integral strategic importance" for both sides.

The two nations also announced Chinese plans for huge investment in hydroelectric power, shipbuilding, railways and a deal to help Argentina build its fourth nuclear plant.

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

And it will also contribute US$423 million for the construction of 11 ships.

China is Argentina's third-largest trading partner behind the South American Mercosur bloc and the European Union, and one of its main destinations for food exports.

Xi also was in Brazil last week 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.

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

The visit is Xi's second to Latin America since taking office last year, when he toured Mexico, Costa Rica, as well as Trinidad and Tobago.

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