Xi seeks energy deals in Venezuela

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro (left) and China's President Xi Jinping wave during a meeting in Miraflores Presidential Palace, in Caracas on July 20, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP 
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro (left) and China's President Xi Jinping wave during a meeting in Miraflores Presidential Palace, in Caracas on July 20, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP 

CARACAS (AFP) - Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived Sunday in Venezuela, the third leg of a Latin American tour aimed at bolstering trade with the region and sealing energy deals.

The Chinese leader's charm offensive, which has already taken him to Brazil and Argentina and will next bring him to Cuba, seeks to secure new bilateral trade deals, particularly for coveted raw materials.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro greeted Mr Xi as he landed at the Maiquetia airport that serves Caracas, with dozens of dancers and musicians performing traditional musical pieces.

Following a visit to the tomb of revolutionary leader Simon Bolivar, Mr Xi will meet with Mr Maduro and address reporters.

On Monday, he will meet with the leader of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, and sign a series of agreements with the Venezuelan government.

During the nearly 15 years that late president Hugo Chavez was in power, China became a strategic ally of Venezuela in America's backyard.

China is the second largest buyer of Venezuelan oil, with an average daily volume of 640,000 barrels, in part to pay off Venezuela's debt of around $17 billion. Both countries aim to increase the number of exports in the coming years to one million barrels a day.

Mr Xi hopes to further develop his country's strategic relationship with Venezuela, just as Caracas's 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, Mr Maduro.