Outspoken Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez arrived in Beijing on Tuesday for the first leg of a weeklong sweep through China, Russia and Europe.
Chavez, a vocal critic of the United States, has said he wants to boost ties with China's communist leadership through increasing oil sales and a raft of projects, including purchasing fighter jets and launching Venezuela's first satellite from China on Nov 1. Chavez's visit comes amid stepped up confrontation with the US, including Russia's dispatching on Monday of a naval squadron to hold joint maneuvers with Venezuela's navy.
The deployment of Russian military power to the Western Hemisphere is unprecedented since the Cold War and follows a weeklong visit to Venezuela by a pair of Russian strategic bombers. Chavez's upcoming visit to Russia will be his second in about two months, to be followed by stops in Portugal and France, where Chavez is to meet with President Nicolas Sarkozy.
China is a key link in Chavez's strategy to cut Venezuela's reliance on the United States by developing new markets for its oil in Asia's booming economies. Venezuelan state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA, or PDVSA, has ramped up oil shipments to China, sending 250,000 barrels of oil per day as of April and aiming to reach 500,000 barrels per day by 2010.
Venezuela and China have also signed accords to build three refineries in China. Other plans call for building a refinery and launching joint development projects in Venezuela's crude-rich Orinoco River belt, and for China to build oil tankers for Venezuela.
China's Foreign Ministry says Chavez plans to hold talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao, with the sides signing documents on cooperation in justice, sports and other fields.
Beijing has not commented on reports that Venezuela will buy two dozen fighters, reported to be K-8 Karakorum basic jet trainers developed jointly by China and Pakistan.