China confident Venezuela can handle debt issue

China confident Venezuela can handle debt issue A woman counts Venezuelan bolivar notes at a vegetable street market in Caracas, Venezuela November 13, 2017. REUTERS/Marco Bello

BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s Foreign Ministry reiterated on Thursday that it believes Venezuela has the ability to handle its debt issue, after the oil-rich country started making interest payments on bonds following a delay that had threatened to trigger a default.

Venezuela has borrowed billions of dollars from Russia and China, primarily through oil-for-loan deals that have crimped the country’s hard currency revenue by requiring oil shipments to be used to service those loans.

On Wednesday, Venezuela won easier debt terms from Russia, as well as a vote of confidence from China – two countries that could provide a lifeline as Caracas seeks to keep its deeply depressed economy solvent.

Asked whether China was concerned that the debt would not be repaid, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a regular news briefing that China-Venezuela financial cooperation was proceeding as normal.

“We believe that Venezuela’s government and people have the ability to properly handle their debt issue,” Geng said.

Venezuelan bond prices have been on a roller-coaster over the past 10 days, as President Nicolas Maduro called investors to debt restructuring talks, while pledging to keep honoring the country’s obligations.

But S&P Global Ratings declared it in selective default on two of its sovereign bonds early this week after it failed to make the coupons within a 30-day grace period.

On Wednesday, the country’s Economy Ministry said it had started transferring $200 million in interest payments on those bonds, which mature in 2019 and 2024.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard, Writing by Michael Martina; Editing by Richard Borsuk)

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