How the energy crisis has strengthened President Maduro

How the energy crisis has strengthened President Maduro

Plus: Vanuatu is still offline after a month, Malaysia’s new Prime Minister is no fan of Mercedes, and why China’s pleased with Taiwan’s local election results.

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Today’s briefing is a ~4.7 min read:

  • 🇻🇪 Coming in from the cold? How the energy crisis has strengthened President Maduro.
  • ➕ Plus: Vanuatu’s government is still offline, Malaysia’s new Prime Minister hates his Mercedes, and why China is pleased with Taiwan’s local election results.

Dealing with Maduro: the lesser of a whole bunch of ‘evils’

In brief:

  • The Biden Administration has given US oil company Chevron the go-ahead to resume production activity in Venezuela.
  • The global energy shortage is ‘persuading’ governments to partially lift sanctions on Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s regime.

SuperMustache, the Venezuelan superhero that bears a striking resemblance to President Nicolás Maduro, has a hidden passion for diplomatic intrigue.

Drill baby, drill

Over the weekend, US President Joe Biden lifted a moratorium on sales of Venezuelan oil and granted the US energy giant Chevron a six-month license to resume production and exports.

But that’s only half the story, because the Biden Administration has been cautiously engaging with Maduro for a while now:

  1. In October, seven US citizens were released in exchange for Mrs Maduro’s nephews.
  2. US envoys have travelled to Caracas twice in recent months.
  3. President Maduro mingled with French President Emmanuel Macron and US climate envoy John Kerry at COP27.

The tides are turning

In just a few months, what’s changed?

1. 🛢️ The energy crisis 

Venezuela has the largest proven oil reserves in the world – need we say more? Plus, the US has had little luck negotiating oil production hikes with Saudi Arabia, leading the Biden Administration with few alternatives but to re-engage with Maduro.

2. 🗳️ A new strategy

Domestic and international campaigns to unseat Maduro have gone nowhere, and several Latin American leaders are already taking steps to reengage with Venezuela.

  • Western leaders might believe their best remaining option is to convince Maduro to hold freer and fairer elections in the hope he’ll lose at the ballot box.

“For the first time in years, the international community and the Venezuelan opposition agree on the way forward: participation in the next constitutionally mandated presidential elections.”

Guillermo Zubillaga, senior director of Public Policy Programs and Corporate Relations at the Americas Society/Council of the Americas. 

Western leaders faced with a classic strategy problem

Imagine you’re President Biden, and you must choose two of the following three options:

  1. Ban Russian energy to punish Putin for his invasion of Ukraine.
  2. Ban Venezuelan energy to punish Maduro for holding fraudulent elections in 2018.
  3. Secure cheap reliable energy for your country in the near term.

Which two do you choose? President Biden’s decision (and perhaps yours?) to let Venezuela come in from the cold has attracted plenty of criticism.

But, fortunately for President Biden, the Democratic Party’s stronger-than-expected performance in the US midterm elections has given him a little wiggle room on matters of foreign policy.

🏆 The clear winner of all this… is Nicolás Maduro, who, until earlier this year, was persona non grata in every Western capital (and plenty of others as well). Given the great lols Maduro had on his recent trip to Cairo, he’ll be hoping things stay this way for a while!


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Southeast Asia & the Pacific

🇲🇾 Malaysia

Malaysia’s new Prime Minister, Anwar Ibrahim, is refusing to use a Mercedes purchased by his predecessor as his official vehicle.

  • The move aligns with Anwar’s promises to review state subsidies and cut unnecessary spending.

🇵🇬 Papua New Guinea

Scientists in Papua New Guinea re-encountered a pigeon species that was believed to have gone extinct in 1882.

  • Scientists and conservationists are working with indigenous leaders to ensure the black-naped pheasant pigeon sticks around for the next 140 years and beyond.

🇵🇭 Philippines

The US military will rebuild a naval outpost in the Philippines’ Subic Bay 30 years after leaving the South China Sea-adjacent harbour.

  • The Subic Bay outpost is one of five that the US plans to build in the Philippines to help Manila counter Chinese naval expansion.

🇻🇺 Vanuatu

The government of Vanuatu has now been offline for a month, following a cyber attack on 30 October.

  • Australia has sent an IT team to save the day – in the meantime, government officials are using pads of paper and typewriters to communicate, which is, to three-fifths of us here at Intrigue, literally unthinkable.

🇻🇳 Vietnam

Vingroup, Vietnam’s largest conglomerate, has started construction on an electric battery factory with the Chinese firm Gotion High-Tech.

  • The $254M factory will produce batteries for Vingroup’s electric car company, Vinfast, which plans to start exporting its vehicles this year.

What Taiwan’s election means for cross-Strait relations

A map showing the electoral results for Taiwan’s local elections. In green (light and dark) the ruling Democratic Progressive party, in blue (light and dark) the Kuomintang party. Credits: Wen-Ti Sung via Twitter.

The news: Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) suffered a significant setback in Saturday’s local elections, winning only five of the island’s 22 municipalities.

  • The opposition Kuomintang (KMT) party, which is seen to favour closer ties with China, won 13 municipalities.

Where does that leave China? Analysts don’t believe that the results signal an interest among the electorate to get too cosy with China.

  • Voters were primarily concerned with domestic issues, such as the economy and law and order, during this campaign.

If the election had come down to foreign policy, experts say the DPP would have had the upper hand.

“All the polling data we have points to the picture that the KMT is far less popular than the DPP, and their positions towards China are far less popular than the DPP’s. They just have a lot more popular local politicians in office right now.”

Political analyst Nathan Batto, speaking to the Financial Times last weekend.

Some analysts even think the results could help ease tensions, especially after such a dramatic summer:

“Narratively, China can use the election result to justify to domestic audience more ‘strategic patience’ towards Taiwan, arguing that more Beijing-friendlier forces in [Taiwan] are winning.”

Political scientist Wen-Ti Sung

Waiting for 2024: The DPP’s poor performance led Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-Wen to resign as party leader (she was term-limited in 2024, anyway).

  • In the meantime, the opposition party KMT may have found its star candidate to win back the Presidency – Chiang Wan-an, the great-grandson of Taiwan’s militant founder, Chiang Kai-shek, became the youngest person ever elected mayor of Taipei.

We were off last week for Thanksgiving, so didn’t get a chance to solicit questions from you! Got a burning geopolitical question? Have something you’ve always wanted to know about how diplomacy works? Consider us your personal Siri, only less annoying!

Drop your questions here!

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