Xi Jinping and Hugo Chavez Hugo Chavez, then president of Venezuela, welcomes Xi Jinping, now president of China, to Miraflores Palace in Caracas in 2009. Photo: Miraflores Palace/Reuters

As China’s top politicians gather in Beijing for the National People’s Congress meeting that will end with the official transfer of power to president-elect Xi Jinping, the nation quietly expressed condolences over the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro announced Chavez’s death to the media on Tuesday, after the president had battled cancer for two years.

State-run Xinhua News Agency reported that outgoing President Hu Jintao and his already appointed successor, Xi Jinping, have sent condolence messages to Maduro, who will be Venezuela’s acting president.

“President Chavez was an outstanding leader of Venezuela and a good friend of the Chinese people,”  spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry, Hua Chunying, said in a press conference. Hua also mentioned that Chavez had made significant contributions to building friendly relations between China and Venezuela.

Hua also added that China hopes to continue to deepen strategic relations between the two nations.

Though Chavez has been known as a longtime friend to China, reaction across state media and social media has been minimal, taking a backseat to local headlines. When the story broke, China’s state-run mainland newspaper only featured an article about the Venezuelan leader’s death on the English version, and a day later, the Chinese version continues not to mention it on its front page.

Xinhua News, however, did feature the breaking story online on the front page of both English and Chinese versions. Xinhua.com’s front page was still mostly focused on the NPC meeting in Beijing, which is the topic dominating Chinese media this week.  

Xinhua, China Xinhua, China Photo: Xinhua, China

On Weibo, a popular Twitter-like microblogging platform in China, reaction to Chavez’ death is also surprisingly subdued.  China’s reactions online were divided, as is much of the opinion on Chavez, but not very heated. Many posts contained sentiments expressing hope for a more unified future for Venezuelans. Several praised Chavez for his anti-American and anti-capitalist positions.

“Rest in Peace, President Chavez. … Thank you for fighting the oil companies and nationalizing the oil of Venezuela so that those profits could be used to lift the people of your nation up,” a Chinese supporter wrote.

Others pointed out a trend where the so-called ‘friends’ of China, whose relationship with Beijing is mostly rooted in trade, seem to all be dying off.

“Chavez, Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden [who was hiding in Chinese-friendly nation, Pakistan], Gaddafi, who of China’s friends is next?” one user asked.

“Being a good friend of the Chinese people seems to mean not too long a life,” another added.