Geopolitics

Venezuela Crisis: Why China Will Ultimately Turn On Maduro

With business sense and political pragmatism, communist China probably sees more sense backing Venezuela's liberal opposition, which could seal the fate of its longtime ally.

Venezuelan petroleum workers producing oil for China
Venezuelan petroleum workers producing oil for China
Santiago Villa

-Analysis-

BOGOTÁ Venezuela's late leader, Hugo Chávez, read widely on China before his first presidential trip there in 2000. Yet he knew very little as he descended onto the tarmac and gave the official receiving him a vigorous hug. For a nation that despises corporal expressions of affection, Chávez had just inaugurated his role as a useful idiot, which he would play the rest of his life.

A Chinese proverb teaches that you will know a person by his friends, and the world's paramount authoritarian state welcomed Chávez many times in the decade after 2000. The state news agency Xinhua described him then as "an old friend of the Chinese people," a title used before for people like Fidel Castro, Libya's Muammar Gaddafi, Cambodia's genocidal ruler Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein or Robert Mugabe.

Chávez proudly took his place in this fraternity of criminals who were also, depending on your point of view, champions of oppressed peoples against European and U.S. imperialism. It seems politics, like quantum physics, can include two simultaneous opposites. From an anti-imperialist standpoint, it was morally acceptable for these rulers to oppress their peoples. The alchemy of national pride makes domestic oppression nobler than foreign oppression.

China is more at ease with secrets talks.

Yet as China undertook the path of economic liberalization, its foreign policy became obsolete. Its trade depended on Europe and the United States, in spite of its ideological affinity with socialist states (or at least any state that did not criticize its police-state practices or the oppression of ethnic groups in regions like Tibet and Xinjiang). But Chinese pragmatism found a solution: its economic and diplomatic ties with the West deepened, and it just ignored Western strictures against authoritarian regimes. It had its ideology, and its own, flexible interpretations of democracy, rights and rule of law. It thus came to enjoy the best of both worlds, yin and yang, profiting enormously from the clash of opposites that made sense within the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other states.

In the first decade of this century, Latin America generally gave an excessively ideological quality to its relations with China. While right-wing governments viewed it with too much distrust, those of the Left, enthralled by the fantasy of forging an anti-imperialist axis, moved toward China with unmitigated trust. The first group lost some economic opportunities, and the second handed over too much in its eagerness to generate political goodwill.

Venezuela was the first country to yield to the new China's economic seduction, or was at least the most zealous, as it sought cooperation with powers that would counter U.S. hostility. The United States was then blocking arms sales to Venezuela and, according to Chávez, had plotted the failed coup of 2002.

China loaned Venezuela $60 billion between 2001 and 2017, under opaque conditions and according to published figures that would still need verification. The country still owes China $20 billion and meanwhile, as repayment, sends it some 350,000 barrels of oil a day, a quarter of its output. In 2018, after receiving an additional loan of $5 billion, Venezuela promised to send one million barrels a day, or three quarters of its production. This has never happened, and China may start to view the opposition leader Juan Guaidó,

China did not wager its geopolitical standing on the Bolivarian revolution.

Speaker of the National Assembly, as a more suitable ally than Nicolás Maduro. Venezuela is in such dire straits that President Maduro may find it impossible to honor his commitments.

The important thing is for the debts to be repaid, for oil to flow, and for China to get something from the political transition. In contrast with Russia, it did not wager its geopolitical standing on the Bolivarian revolution.

Such a maneuver from China in the Venezuelan crisis is not incomprehensible: backing Guaidó makes sense, so China would do it willingly but discreetly, and not until the transition is practically a done deal. China is more at ease with secrets talks than public diplomacy. And I'd bet those private conversations have already begun.

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Future

How Facebook's Metaverse Could Undermine Europe's Tech Industry

Mark Zuckerberg boasted that his U.S. tech giant will begin a hiring spree in Europe to build his massive "Metaverse." Touted as an opportunity for Europe, the plans could poach precious tech talent from European tech companies.

Carl-Johan Karlsson

PARIS — Facebook's decision to recruit 10,000 people across the European Union might be branded as a vote of confidence in the strength of Europe's tech industry. But some European companies, which are already struggling to fill highly-skilled roles such as software developers and data scientists, are worried that the tech giant might make it even harder to find the workers that power their businesses.


Facebook's new European staff will work as part of its so-called "metaverse," the company's ambitious plan to venture beyond its current core business of connected social apps.

Shortage of French developers

Since Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced his more maximalist vision of Facebook in July, the concept of the metaverse has quickly become a buzzword in technology and business circles. Essentially a sci-fi inspired augmented reality world, the metaverse will allow people to interact through hardware like augmented reality (AR) glasses that Zuckerberg believes will eventually be as ubiquitous as smartphones.

The ambition to build what promoters claim will be the successor to the mobile internet comes with a significant investment, including multiplying the 10% of the company's 60,000-strong workforce currently based in Europe. The move has been welcomed by some as a potential booster for the continent's tech market.

Eight out of 10 French software companies say they can't find enough workers.

"In a number of regions in Europe there are clusters of pioneering technology companies. A stronger representation of Facebook can support this trend," German business daily Handelsblatt notes.

And yet the enthusiasm isn't shared by everyone. In France, company leaders worry that Facebook's five-year recruiting plan will dilute an already limited talent pool, with eight out of 10 French software companies already having difficulties finding staff, daily Les Echos reports.

The profile of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg displayed on a smartphone

Cris Faga / ZUMA

Teleworking changes the math

There is currently a shortage of nearly 10,000 computer engineers in France, with developers being the most sought-after, according to a recent study by Numéum, the main employers' consortium of the country's digital sector.

Facebook has said its recruiters will target nations including Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Poland, the Netherlands and Ireland, without mentioning specific numbers in any country. But the French software sector, which has so far managed to retain 59% of its workforce, fears that its highly skilled and relatively affordable young talent will be fertile recruiting grounds — especially since the pandemic has ushered in a new era of teleworking.

Facebook's plan to build its metaverse comes at a time when the nearly $1-trillion company faces its biggest scandal in years over damning internal documents leaked by a whistleblower, as well as mounting antitrust scrutiny from lawmakers and regulators. Still, as the sincerity of Zuckerberg's quest is underscored by news that the pivot might also come with a new company name, European software companies might want to start thinking about how to keep their talent in this universe.

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