With the United States preoccupied with the Middle East, another great power of the 21st century is paying close attention to Latin America. China is devoting considerable diplomatic and economic resources to strengthen its strategic energy alliance with Venezuela--a country that at present provides 20 percent of U.S. oil imports. To the apparent ignorance of Washington, a great game, set in this century and continent, is currently underway.
Chinese oil companies often act as arms of government policy. Officials in Beijing lack confidence in the free market's ability to reliably supply China with oil over the long term. They thus have few qualms about who they deal with and what inducements they offer to guarantee China's access to oil. Indeed, China has already used its veto power at the UN and has deployed thousands of troops to protect its oil interests in the Sudan, unfazed by that country's deplorable human rights record. China has adopted a similar policy in Iran, recently signing a massive deal to develop that country's Yadvaran field, while the rest of the world frets about Tehran's nuclear ambitions. Beijing has also extended a $2 billion "ultra-low-interest loan" to Angola in order to gain exploration and development rights to several potentially rich offshore oil blocks. In Nigeria, China recently agreed to make $4 billion in "infrastructure investments" in exchange for four oil exploration licenses. Such policies indicate China would be quite willing to support Chavez's "Bolivarian Revolution"--economically, politically and, perhaps, even militarily--in exchange for access to Venezuelan oil. Nearly 200 years after the Monroe Doctrine, the possibility, however remote, of a Chinese military presence on Venezuelan soil is sobering.