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Venezuela's Chavez arrives in China with eye on oil deals

BEIJING (AFP) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez arrived in Beijing for an official visit that aims to bolster his country's oil deals with the Asian giant, state media and officials said.

During his five-day state visit, Chavez will meet with Chinese leaders including President Hu Jintao to exchange views on bilateral relations and international issues of common concern, the Xinhua news agency said.

Before he departed Venezuela on his third trip to China in the last five years, Chavez described himself as "an old friend of the Chinese people".

The leftist president was accompanied by Foreign Minister Ali Rodriguez, the former energy minister and a former head of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

In announcing the visit on Monday, Rodriguez mentioned China's runaway economic growth and its effect on Venezuela, one of the world's leading oil producers.

China's growth "translates, among other things, in a strong rise in the demand for energy," Rodriguez said.

There are already business arrangements between Venezuela's state-run oil company and China Petroleum that include the purchase of Venezuelan fuel oil and power plant fuel.

Chinese companies are also seeking to invest in oil exploration and production "to satisfy, in large measure, the new Chinese demand," Rodriguez said.

In turn China can assist Venezuela in the fields of telecommunications, food production and culture, Rodriguez said.

"There is also the national strategic interest of diversifying markets, without sacrificing any of our (current) clients," he added.

US markets currently account for 85 percent of Venezuela's crude oil exports, making up 12 to 15 percent of total US consumption, according to White House statistics.

Venezuela has had a tense relationship with Washington since Chavez first took office in 1998. In August, Chavez won a referendum keeping in office until 2006.

Besides the capital Beijing, Chavez will also visit Shandong province in east China, Xinhua said.

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