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International relations

China offers to help Venezuela fix its power grid

Beijing still recognizes Maduro as president while US backs opposition leader

Chinese President Xi Jinping welcomes Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro to Beijing in September.   © Reuters

BEIJING -- China has offered to help Venezuela restore its failed power grid, while backing President Nicolas Maduro's claim that nearly a week of blackouts were caused by sabotage.

"China is willing to provide assistance and technical support for recovery of the power system," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang told reporters in Beijing on Wednesday.

"We are concerned that the accident was caused by a cyberattack on the Venezuelan power supply system," Lu said. "We hope that the Venezuelan side will find out the cause of the accident as soon as possible and restore normal power supply and social order."

The offer of assistance comes amid reports of looting in the west of the oil-rich South American country. Swathes of the country have suffered blackouts for more than six days, throwing the transport system into chaos, causing food to rot, and leaving hospitals without the means to keep medical equipment operating.

Maduro's ruling Socialist Party has blamed the outages on U.S. sabotage, pointing the finger at President Donald Trump for conducting cyberattacks on Venezuela's biggest dam.

Venezuela was plunged into a political crisis in January when Juan Guaido, head of the country's opposition, invoked the constitution to declare himself president on the grounds that Maduro's re-election in 2017 was illegitimate.

China, along with Russia, is one of the few major countries that still recognizes Maduro's government. More than 50 other nations, including the U.S., see Guaido as the country's legitimate leader.

While Beijing has an official policy of not interfering in the affairs of other countries, Foreign Minister Wang Yi recently hinted that China may get involved.

In February, he stuck to the line that the Venezuelan issue was an internal matter. But speaking to reporters last Friday on the sidelines of the National People's Congress in Beijing, he said, "China is willing to continue to support the Venezuelan ruling party and opposition parties to seek a political solution through peaceful conversation, and maintain the stability of the country and the safety of the people."

China has put more than $50 billion into Venezuela through a series of oil-for-credit agreements, which has helped Beijing secure energy supplies and boosted an anti-U.S. nation in Latin America. China also extended a $5 billion credit line to the cash-strapped country in September. Much of these debts are still outstanding.

At the NPC last Friday, Foreign Minister Wang vowed to continue working with countries in South America, and said Beijing remained committed to its "Belt and Road" initiative in the region.

"We will push the China-Latin America comprehensive cooperative partnership to a new level."

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