Byline: Bill Gertz, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
The visit to China by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez this week is being watched closely by U.S. national security officials who are concerned that Beijing is increasing its backing for the leftist leader.
A defense official involved in Asian affairs said the visit to Beijing by Mr. Chavez is part of China's strategy of forming coalitions aimed at controlling resource markets - in Venezuela's case, access to oil.
"China does not believe in free markets and wants to lock up access to them," the official said. He noted that Beijing thinks the United States is trying to block access to international energy and other resources as part of a containment strategy designed to prevent the emergence of a threatening China.
In Beijing yesterday, Chinese President Hu Jintao warmly welcomed Mr. Chavez, who has proposed an ambitious plan for his country to almost quadruple sales to China to 1 million barrels per day in the next decade.
"I believe that, through your visit, the two countries' cooperation in all aspects can be promoted," Mr. Hu told the Venezuelan leader at the Great Hall of the People, the Associated Press reported from Beijing.
Mr. Chavez responded by saying that "mutual trust between our two countries has been deepening, and the economic and cultural exchanges have been strengthening."
Mr. Chavez told reporters that he hoped to be exporting 500,000 barrels of oil per day to China by 2009.
"And in the next decade, we will aim for a million barrels," he said.
Mr. Chavez also sought and won Beijing's backing for Venezuela's bid for a nonpermanent seat on the U.N. Security Council next year, something the Bush administration opposes.
China views souring relations between Washington and Caracas as a strategic opportunity and is cautiously coaxing Mr. Chavez into reducing Venezuela's current large exports to the United States, the defense official said.
Currently, Venezuela ships about 1.5 million barrels of oil a day to the United States, accounting for about 10 percent of all U.S. oil imports.
The Chavez government earlier this year threatened to curtail oil exports to the United States over concerns that the Bush administration was planning to invade Venezuela or otherwise oust the leftist government. …