Asian Powers React to Hugo Chavez’s Death
Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela, died of cancer last week. In this post, we examine Russian, Indian and Chinese reactions to the death of this legendary and controversial icon in contemporary Latin American politics.
Russian leaders sent warm condolences to Venezuela, praising Chavez for strengthening Russo-Venezuelan ties during his presidency and expressing hope for continued partnership.
- Referring to Hugo Chavez as “a dear friend of Russia,” Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed hope on Thursday that Moscow and Caracas will continue developing friendly bilateral relations, while Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev commended Chavez for his life’s devotion to “justice and equality.”
- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov praised Chavez for helping Moscow to reach a new level of partnership with Latin American countries.
- Meanwhile, Gennady Zyuganov, leader of Russia’s Communist party, speculated that Chavez’s death may have been “part of a plot by the United States to infect its enemies in Latin America.”
Members of the business community expressed concern over the future of Russia’s oil contracts in Venezuela despite assurances of continuity by Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro. Russian companies are involved in five major oil projects in Venezuela, and Rosneft, the Russian state-owned oil company, is the leading oil investor in Venezuela since Chavez renationalized the oil sector.
- Igor Sechin, Rosneft chairman and a former deputy prime minister and close Putin ally, headed the Russian delegation at Chavez’s funeral.
- Georgy Bovt, a political analyst with the Moscow Times, criticized Russia for putting “all of its eggs in Chavez’s basket,” and noted that since Chavez is gone, “the one factor that has always worked against Russia- its lack of technological innovation- will play an even larger role in Venezuela turning to China instead of Russia for military and technical cooperation.”
- “Everything will depend on whether contracts with international companies will be reconsidered,” said Maria Shishkina, an oil analyst for Russ-Invest.
In an official statement, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh lamented the passing of Chavez, saying “Venezuela has lost a charismatic and immensely popular leader in President Chavez who leaves a legacy of striving for social justice.President Chavez also made a tremendous contribution to the development of closer relations among the countries of the developing world.”
Most of the popular press, however, commented on Chavez’s mixed legacy and speculated whether his welfare policies, supported by the country’s oil wealth, will be sustainable in the near future.
- As the Hindustan Times wrote in an editorial, “The real test of any leader is whether the institutions he builds survive him. Unfortunately, this is unlikely…. His failure to invest sensibly in Venezuela’s oil and gas sector will mean financial hardship in the years ahead.” Similarly, the Times of India pointed out, since Chavez left “no institutions built up to buttress his uplift of Venezuela’s socio-economically disadvantaged, his good work may not outlive him by much.”
- The “lesson for India,” commented the Business Standard, is that “expensive employment and food distribution schemes…must be yoked to economic growth, and predicated on solid institutional and political reform.”
In contrast, the left-leaning paper The Hindu, was a lone voice in its praise for the late Venezuelan leader: “Chávismo, as this approach came to be called, infuriated the United States, which had long dominated Latin America through brutal dictatorships and oligarchical democracies….It is the better life which millions of Venezuelans enjoy today that will serve as the first line of defence for Chávismo as the U.S. and its allies try to turn the clock back.”
Chinese leaders Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping sent condolence messages to Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman at a regular press briefing.
In the state-sponsored media, some commentary effused praise for the “Latin American hero” who had been “demonized by Western opinion.” In a slight twist, China Network Television (CNTV) said Chavez was “good at anti-US rhetoric, but just as good at superficial policies,” because he never translated his rhetoric into substantial actions.
Other analyses, in contrast, were not marked by the usual ideological concerns.
- Sun Hongbo of the Institute of Latin American Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences expressed optimism in the future of US-Venezuelan relations. “Despite its declining influence in Latin America, the US is not likely to interfere much in Venezuela because the latter does not pose any substantial threat to US national security and its political transition is taking place under a democratic framework.” As for Venezuela, concerns for economic stability and oil security may prompt the new government to “ease its anti-US stance, drawing a similar response from Washington.”
- China-Venezuelan relations also have good prospects, argues Jiang Shixue, Vice President of the Chinese Association of Latin American Studies. “Economic cooperation between China and Venezuela is legally based on government contracts and agreement, [and] the economic relationship between the two countries is win-win. Consequently, the nature of this kind of partnership will not significantly change even if the opposition wins the election in the post-Chavez era. This continuity of Venezuela’s foreign policy towards China will certainly be beneficial for both sides.”