China navy ship makes first trip to Venezuela after Maduro visit

Venezuelan dancers welcoming Chinese naval medical ship "Peace Ark" at the La Guaira port on Saturday. During the vessel's eight-day stay, its commander would visit military and political officials and inspect Venezuelan military and medical faciliti
Venezuelan dancers welcoming Chinese naval medical ship "Peace Ark" at the La Guaira port on Saturday. During the vessel's eight-day stay, its commander would visit military and political officials and inspect Venezuelan military and medical facilities, Xinhua said.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

SHANGHAI • A Chinese naval ship has travelled to Venezuela for the first time, following a visit by President Nicolas Maduro to Beijing this month, where he had been looking to gain China's support for the Latin American nation's struggling economy.

The naval medical ship, known as the "Peace Ark", arrived on Saturday at the Venezuelan port of La Guaira for an eight-day period of "friendly visits" to the country, the official Xinhua news agency said yesterday.

The Chinese commander of the vessel would visit military and political officials and inspect Venezuelan military and medical facilities, according to Xinhua.

Mr Maduro, whose leftist government is under fire in Venezuela as the economy struggles with a fifth year of recession and hyperinflation, visited China earlier this month.

Leaders in Beijing pledged to help but made no reference to extending him new funds.

China has been a major backer of Venezuela over the years, with more than a decade of oil-for-loan agreements that helped China secure energy supplies for its fast-growing economy while bolstering an anti-US ally in Latin America.

But the flow of cash halted nearly three years ago, when Venezuela asked for a change of payment terms amid falling oil prices and declining crude output that pushed its state-led economy into a hyperinflationary collapse.

Venezuela's finance ministry said in July it would receive US$250 million (S$340 million) from the China Development Bank to boost oil production but offered no details.

Venezuela previously accepted a US$5 billion loan from China for its struggling oil sector but has yet to receive the entire amount.

During his visit, Mr Maduro signed memorandums of understanding on energy and mining deals, which he said were worth several billion dollars.

After he returned home last week, Mr Maduro said Venezuela is to increase its oil exports to China to one million barrels a day. Private-sector estimates put the current export figure to China at around 700,000 barrels a day.

Venezuela's crude oil production - which accounts for 96 per cent of income - fell last month to 1.4 million barrels per day, the lowest level in three decades except for a period between 2002 and 2003, according to the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec).

Mr Maduro's government has massively devalued the national currency as part of a raft of measures intended to halt the economy's collapse and hyperinflation which the International Monetary Fund projects will reach 1,000,000 per cent by the end of the year.

More than 1.6 million Venezuelans - facing shortages of food and medicine at home - have left their country since 2015, mostly for neighbouring Latin American countries.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 24, 2018, with the headline 'China navy ship makes first trip to Venezuela after Maduro visit'. Print Edition | Subscribe