What’s going on?
The Trump administration notes the return of competition between world powers. States with the ability to wield influence on a global scale are coming increasingly to prominence. America’s national security and national defense strategies need to reflect this new reality. China and Russia, both want to shape a world antithetical to U.S. values and interests.
They want a world more consistent with their authoritarian models. We need to shift our attention in foreign and defense policy from countering terrorism to countering adventurism and expansionism from Beijing and Moscow. This global competition is playing out in the Venezuelan agony. The outcome there will set the tone for a new era of power competition.
China flexes its muscle
China is waging a disinformation campaign blaming the U.S. for the recent blackouts in Venezuela. China came out publicly with a state spokesman, implying the blackouts were attributable to U.S. cyberattacks. The blackouts are attributable to dictator Nicolás Maduro’s inept leadership, corruption, inattention to Venezuela’s people, and his lack of concern for humanity.
Maduro has overseen Venezuela’s economic and social collapse. He has ridden the failed Chavez’s socialist policies and authoritarian rule into the ground. China is the reason Maduro still clings to power. Beijing provides significant economic support to keep the cash strapped country afloat. Without China Maduro could not even fight to maintain power. Dozens of countries already recognize Juan Guaidó, the leader of the legislature, as Venezuela’s legitimate interim president.
China is trying to assert economic control in Venezuela which has the world’s largest oil reserves. The China Development Bank has provided Venezuela with more than $30 billion in loans tied to oil. Beijing’s financial interest in Venezuela is tied to loans for oil deals dating back to 2007. Their loans are not egalitarian. Caracas will have difficulty paying them off.
For China it is also about expanding Chinese influence. It is a demonstration of their growing political and diplomatic power on the world stage. China fears the spread of Western values such as democracy and human rights. Autocrats want to stay in power above all else. Beijing and Caracas both see the United States as working to subvert their legitimacy and political systems. China views Maduro’s ouster as a defeat for their own oppressive alternative to Western democracy and capitalism.
The Chinese telecom giant ZTE Corp is helping Venezuela replicate China’s surveillance state. Completion will ensure total government control over Venezuelan society. Beijing has sold more than $615 million in weapons to Venezuela over the last 10 years. The makeup of the migrant caravans heading to our southern border probably has a significant Venezuelan flavor. All the UN backing, from UNESCO and HCR, the coordination and support for the caravans isn’t mana from heaven.
China is committed to undermining the United States wherever it can. To this end it is pushing to supplant the United States as the center of power in international affairs. Supporting an anti-American ally only three hours from Miami by plane absolutely makes sense.
Russia wants to Play too
And China is not the only power backing Maduro. Russia has sent planes carrying soldiers and tons of equipment to Caracas. The soldiers are described as a “rapid deployment force.” Ostensibly they are there to repair Venezuela’s Russian supplied S-300 air defense systems. The Russian military contractors and mercenaries are in Venezuela providing active support to Maduro’s regime irrespective of motivation.
While China and Russia are providing extensive support to Maduro, the United States considers him an illegitimate leader. The Trump administration is still considering a military intervention to depose Maduro so that Guaidó can lead Venezuela on a path toward democracy. The long lingering situation in Venezuela is clearly a manifestation of the international power competition.
Events in Venezuela will set the tone for how these political rivalries may play out. Maduro staying in power will further embolden Beijing and Moscow. If they defeat America in Venezuela look for them to up their game around the world. Guaidó emerging as the unchallenged interim president, steering Venezuela on a freer, more stable path will bolster America’s position. Either way the outcome will have consequences far beyond Latin America.