March 22, 2019 / 7:40 AM / 2 months ago

China warns against undermining Latam lender meeting amid Venezuela row

BEIJING (Reuters) - China warned on Friday against attempts to bring “misfortune” to the annual meeting of the Inter-American Development Bank in China next week, after the United States threatened to pull out if Beijing refused to let a representative of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido attend.

FILE PHOTO: Venezuelan children wave flags as they welcome China's President Xi Jinping at Simon Bolivar airport in Caracas July 20, 2014. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

The Washington-based IADB, the biggest lender to Latin America, voted last week to replace Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s board representative with Harvard economist Ricardo Hausmann, who is backed by Guaido.

Several sources familiar with the situation told Reuters that China - one of the Venezuelan government’s few remaining international allies - had proposed not inviting representatives from either the Maduro or Guaido camps to “de-politicise” the meeting.

A senior official in U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration - which has backed Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate ruler - said the United States and its regional allies would “pull quorum” from the meeting in Chengdu if Hausmann was excluded.

The move likely would derail the meetings, which bring together finance and development ministers from the lender’s 48 member countries.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China attaches great importance to hosting the bank meeting and hopes the event can be successful.

The meeting should focus on financial cooperation and “avoid introducing sensitive political topics”, he told a daily news briefing.

“It should avoid being politicised,” Geng added.

The issue of the participation of the Venezuela delegation should be “appropriately resolved on the basis of flexibility and pragmatism”, he said.

“If relevant countries deliberately damage the preparatory process for the annual meeting and cause misfortune for the meeting then they should accept the consequences of this,” Geng said, without elaborating.

Geng reiterated that China opposes foreign interference in Venezuela’s internal affairs and supports the government and opposition to seek a political resolution via talks.

It is the first time the IADB is holding its annual meeting in China, which has become a major player in Latin America and has poured more than $50 billion into Venezuela over the past decade in oil-for-loan agreements.

With relations between Washington and Beijing marred by an acrimonious trade dispute, U.S. officials have expressed concern in recent months at China’s growing influence in Latin America - a region Washington has long regarded as its backyard.

Guaido, who heads Venezuela’s national assembly, invoked the constitution to assume the interim presidency in January, saying Maduro’s election was not legitimate. Most Western countries, including the United States, have backed Guaido as Venezuela’s head of state.

Maduro, who still has the support of Venezuela’s military, has clung to power with the support of Russia, China and Cuba.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

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