Commentary

Trump’s Tough Trade Dealings with China Hinge on … Venezuela

Ken Blackwell
By Ken Blackwell | August 14, 2019 | 1:28 PM EDT

Chinese leader Xi Jinping and President Donald J. Trump (Photo by Thomas Peter-Pool/Getty Images)

It is certainly no secret how President Trump is playing very tough with China these days by enforcing a series of hard-hitting trade sanctions, all with a goal of establishing fairer trade between China and the U.S.  

But the President might be eroding his own, hard fought progress with China if he allows the Chinese government direct control of the world’s largest oil reserves which are located in Venezuela. The president can prevent these vast oil supplies from falling under Chinese control if he allows American energy companies to continue operating in partnership with Venezuela, as they have done for decades.    

The United States has been operating in Venezuela since the 1920’s, but China, Russia and other nations have slowly gained more influence and a foothold in the troubled socialist nation. Embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has virtually run his oil rich country into the ground, and the people of Venezuela are in despair.

Socialism has completely devastated Venezuela. Once a South American paradise, the country is now awash in drug cartel crime and violence from brutal Cuban gangs that make ANTIFA look tame; the economy has collapsed; their currency is virtually worthless. More than four million have fled as there are few jobs and unimaginable inflation.

China and Russia have been sending in tens of billions into Venezuela to help Maduro’s ruthless government maintain control. Why would Russia and China want to bankroll Maduro? The answer is simple – both countries want Venezuela’s oil fields estimated at between 300 and 500 billion barrels of recoverable oil and with a conservative market value of $25 trillion dollars.

It is vital that President Trump allow American energy companies permission to continue operations in Venezuela. Some within the Trump Administration believe that if we simply remove all American businesses from Venezuela, Maduro’s regime will collapse quickly. However, that thinking is myopic and would set up an embarrassing foreign policy mistake for the President. If American energy companies are forced to cease operations and forfeit billions in equipment and other assets, the Chinese and Russians will simply move in to take control – and bolster Maduro.

American energy companies are already in place and stand ready to help a new government with a democratic president. The U.S. has a decades-long presence in this poor nation and the U.S. can help Venezuela invigorate its energy industry and rebuild Venezuela’s infrastructure. Such activity would also allow the U.S. to provide much needed humanitarian relief. The oil fields in Venezuela, if properly developed, could exceed those of any other oil field in the world.  

President Trump’s administration has rightly imposed economic sanctions on Venezuela in an effort to dislodge Maduro’s corrupt regime, and many believe it’s only a matter of time before former President Maduro is in exile. The Trump Administration recently granted several energy companies a temporary waiver which allows them to continue operations in country for a few more months. Such a waver should be extended for as long as necessary in order to protect American business assets and ensure the security of a vast, global energy resource.

The Trump Administration is making substantial headway with his Chinese trade negotiations, but allowing China access to the world’s largest oil supply will immediately undermine his own policies – his own efforts to establish fair trade with China. Gaining access to Venezuela’s oil and a multi-trillion-dollar payout would no doubt embolden the Chinese to take a harder stance against the U.S. regarding trade and give China the upper hand in negotiating power. 

This simply can’t be allowed to occur.  

It’s imperative the president protect American interests in Venezuela, and forfeiting trillions to the Chinese is surely no way to win a trade war. Pulling American energy companies out of Venezuela now is not only a strategic mistake, it would jeopardize American energy security and would leave Venezuela with no real hope for economic and social recovery.

Ken Blackwell, a domestic policy advisor to the Trump Transition Team, formerly served as United States Ambassador to United Nations Human Rights Commission.

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