Venezuela looks further East: Chavez in Japan
Caracas, Venezuela, 6 April 2009. After including Japan in his international tour at a very short notice, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez visited Tokyo on Monday. Chavez met with Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso to discuss furthering energy and financial cooperation. Just last month, both countries had signed a deal to exploit oil and gas at the Orinoco Basin. During the visit today, 12 deals were penned. Venezuelan Oil Company PDVSA signed five Memoranda of Understanding with Marubeni, Itochu, Mitsubishi, Mitsui and Jogmec. Pequiven and Mitsubishi also agreed to cooperate in joint projects. Tokyo is rather interested on diversifying and securing its foreing oil sources to further reduce its dependence on Middle Ease suppliers. Despite global economic recession, China is currently its rival in such race for foreign energy sources. It also lags behind Chinese participation in other ventures in South America.
In addition, Chavez met with representatives of Keidanren - Japanese Business Federation - and other business coorpartations. The Venezuelan President also stated his country interest in placing its foreign reserves under the Japanese Yen. Caracas had decided to move its foreign reserves from US Dollars few years ago and place them under the Euro and other currencies. Such financial strategy has been signaled for the limited impact of the global crisis on Venezuelan economy.
TOKYO (AP) -- Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez agreed Monday to deepen ties in energy, investment and trade, with Japanese companies ready to participate in gas and crude production in the Latin American country. Aso and Chavez decided to set up a working team to discuss details of Japanese investment in heavy crude production in Venezuela's oil-rich Orinoco River basin, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said in a statement. Chavez, on a two-day visit to Tokyo, has expressed hopes to get Japanese companies to participate as minority partners in a joint venture with state-run Petroleos de Venezuela SA in the Orinoco project. The two country aim to become "energy allies," with Venezuela hoping to eventually supply Japan with 1 million barrels of oil per day, Chavez said, according to Venezuela's state-run Bolivarian News Agency, or ABN. "We hope Japan's investments and technological participation accelerate and grow stronger," ABN quoted Chavez as saying. The president said Japanese companies could also be involved in railway projects, housing and highway construction in Venezuela. Baseball topped the agenda before the two leaders got down to business. Chavez, known as an avid baseball fan, promised that his country, which lost to South Korea in the semifinal in the World Baseball Classic last month, will be the winner next time. Japan won the title for a second time in a row. Chavez canceled a scheduled news conference later Monday for an unspecified reason, an embassy official said on condition of anonymity, citing department rules. The president also postponed his departure, initially scheduled for later Monday, until Tuesday. Japanese officials said they were not informed of the reason for the changes. Chavez was accompanied by top officials including Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez. The Venezuelan government, which relies on oil for about 93 percent of its exports, has been hit by a fall in oil income and is seeking foreign investment for its oil industry. Chavez met with Japanese executives from energy companies interested in investing in oil production in the South American nation, according to the president's office. Chavez has said Venezuela expects $500 million in Japanese investment to help upgrade Venezuela's Puerto La Cruz refinery.
Chavez´s arrival to Japan coincided with the North Korea crisis which was ignated by the launching of a missile on Sunday. Upon his arrival, the Venezuelan President took a reconciliatory stand by calling off the winds of war.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has cautioned against blowing winds of war on North Korea over its efforts to put a satellite in orbit. "With a lack of information and even with contradictory information ... I prefer to have a large measure of prudence," Chavez told a Venezuelan TV station from Tokyo on Sunday. "As the Russian government has said, a lot of prudence and evaluation to avoid the winds of war," he said during his visit to Japan. Seoul, Tokyo, and Washington, who insisted Pyongyang was actually testing a long-range missile, strongly condemned the North Korean move while Beijing and Moscow urging calm and restraint after the launch. Pyongyang announced on Sunday that its communication satellite had successfully been put into orbit while South Korea and the US said that no North Korean satellite could reach orbit.
This is the second time Chavez pays a visit to Japan. He first made a working visit to Japan 10 years ago as President elect. Then, Chavez met with the Japanese Royal couple and former Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi. At that time, Japan was rather keen on learning the political orientation and democratic intent of the Chavez´s administration and his planned reforms. After ten years in power and the prospect of more years under Chavez´s political grasp, Japan seems now more at ease with placing investment in Venezuela.
Backgrounder: Chavez went over his plans to reform Venezuela's political, economic and social systems. He has a long to-do list: promulgate a new constitution, streamline government institutions, fight poverty, promote agriculture and boost economic ties with other countries, especially in the Asia-Pacific region. Obuchi voiced support for Chavez's reform plans but said his efforts, which some Venezuela watchers find alarming, should be based on democratic principles, and that Japanese investment in Venezuela may increase after a proper legal environment is created. Chavez replied that reforms will be carried out democratically, stressing that the new constitution will be based on a national referendum, the official said. The two leaders underlined the need to comprehensively strengthen their relationship. Venezuela is focusing on fostering Asian ties, while Japan wants to cooperate with Venezuela in energy development, the official said. In August, Tokyo decided to add Venezuela to a list of countries that makes nongovernmental organizations eligible for grants-in-aid, although no specific amount of aid for Venezuelan NGOs has been decided. In addition, the government is considering whether to dispatch a team of experts to Venezuela to help in the development of rural villages and the enhancement of medical care in remote areas. The visit is Chavez's first to Japan since he became president in February. It is part of a tour of Asia that also includes China, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and the Philippines. Later in the day, Chavez was to meet with the Emperor. He is also scheduled to exchange views today with Japanese business leaders.