Venezuela border controversy: China calls for peace; says Guyana a “good friend”

President Dr Irfaan Ali met with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, on July 28, 2023

China, one of Venezuela’s most critical allies amid its diplomatic isolation on the world stage, has made a call for peace to prevail between Guyana and Venezuela, noting that avoiding hostilities is in the interest of both countries and the region.

On Wednesday, China’s Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin held a press conference, and was asked by French news agency AFP about the Guyana/ Venezuela border controversy.

Specifically, the spokesman was asked whether China, a “firm” ally of Venezuela while also maintaining friendly relations with Guyana, supported Venezuela’s unjust claims on Guyana’s territory, and whether the country was worried about a possible invasion.
At this point, Wenbin clarified that both countries are “good friends” of China.

“Venezuela and Guyana are both China’s good friends. China always respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries. China always supports the two countries in properly settling the issue of demarcation of their boundary through friendly consultation. This is in the interests of the people of both countries, and conducive to the stability, cooperation and development of Latin America and the Caribbean,” the Spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry added.

Guyana and China established diplomatic relations since the 1970s. Only last year, trade between Guyana and China had jumped to US$1.88 billion. And in July of this year, Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Guyanese President Dr Irfaan Ali in Chengdu, capital city of southwest China’s Sichuan Province, during his first official trip to China as President.

Meanwhile, Venezuela is also being warned not to use force or the threat of force by none other than Brazil, a country that shares borders with both Venezuela and Guyana. Celso Amorim, a top foreign policy advisor of Brazilian President Lula da Silva and his special envoy to Venezuela, last month was quoted by Reuters as warning Venezuela to back off.

In an interview with Reuters on Wednesday, the advisor made it clear that Brazil rejects any use of force by Venezuela which would see it unlawfully occupying and annexing Guyana’s Essequibo region. Further, he was quoted as saying that Brazil itself would urge the President Nicolas Maduro regime not to threaten Guyana.

In fact, Amorim said that during his recent visit, he conveyed to the Venezuelan Government Brazil’s position on the need to avoid hostilities.

“I conveyed our very serious preoccupations…Now there are new facts that are still more worrisome. We’ll not fail to transmit our concerns, especially in relation to the policy of no use of force,” Amorim was quoted as saying.

Both Brazil and China form part of the BRICS bloc, along with Russia, India and South Africa, an intergovernmental collection of countries that together account for the major emerging economies of the world.

Only a few days ago, in a significant step towards strengthening bilateral ties between Guyana and Brazil, Guyana Defence Force (GDF) Chief of Staff Brigadier Omar Khan had met with the Chief of the Joint General Staff of the Brazilian Armed Forces, Admiral Renato Rodrigues de Aguiar Freire, and Chief of Strategic Affairs of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Brigadier Walcyr Josué de Castilho Araujo.

The week prior, the Guyanese Army Chief had also paid a visit to the Brazilian Ministry of Defence. The purpose of the visit went beyond routine military exchanges and training, focusing instead on a strategic discourse aimed at expanding and solidifying relations between the two nations.

Guyana’s Spanish-speaking neighbour Venezuela has laid claim to more than two-thirds of Guyana’s landmass in the Essequibo region, and to a portion of its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in which nearly 11 billion barrels of oil have been discovered largely by United States oil giant ExxonMobil.

Over the past few weeks, Guyana has been informing regional and international partners of the referendum Venezuela carried out on December 3, which has been criticized by the United States, Caricom, and the Organization of American States (OAS), as well as by several other nations in the Region, including Brazil, for seeking to, among other things, gain a national consensus to annex Essequibo.

Following the referendum, which was avoided by 89 per cent of the population, according to the country’s Opposition Leader Henrique Capriles, Maduro had announced that he would now authorize oil exploration in Guyana’s Essequibo River, despite the International Court of Justice (ICJ) not yet pronouncing on the validity of Venezuela’s claims.

President Dr Irfaan Ali, in an address to the nation late on Tuesday evening, made it clear that his government would be taking a number of precautionary measures, including alerting the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).