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China calls report of talks with Venezuela opposition 'fake news'

BEIJING (Reuters) - China said on Wednesday a newspaper report that Chinese diplomats had held talks with Venezuela’s political opposition to protect its investments in the Latin American country was “fake news”.

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who many nations have recognized as the country's rightful interim ruler, speaks next to his mother Norka Marquez and his wife Fabiana Rosales, as he attends a rally to commemorate the Day of the Youth and to protest against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government in Caracas, Venezuela February 12, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

The Wall Street Journal said the diplomats, concerned about oil projects in Venezuela and almost $20 billion that Caracas owes Beijing, had held talks in Washington with representatives of Juan Guaido, the opposition leader heading U.S.-backed efforts to oust President Nicolas Maduro.

“In fact the report is false. It’s fake news,” Hua Chunying, spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, told reporters when asked about the article.

Later on Wednesday, President Donald Trump’s pick to lead the U.S. response to Venezuela’s political crisis, Elliott Abrams, told a congressional hearing he was aware there had been some exchanges between China and Venezuela’s opposition.

“I don’t believe there are any negotiations, using that term narrowly. Discussions, sending of messages have taken place,” Abrams said.

Guaido invoked a constitutional provision to assume the presidency three weeks ago, arguing that Maduro’s re-election last year was a sham.

Most Western countries, including the United States, have recognized Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate head of state, but Maduro retains the backing of Russia and China as well as control of state institutions including the military.

Venezuela’s “affairs” should be resolved via dialogue, Hua added, reiterating China’s previous stance.

China has lent more than $50 billion to Venezuela through oil-for-loan agreements over the past decade, securing energy supplies for its fast-growing economy.

A change of government in Venezuela would favor Russia and China, who are the country’s two main foreign creditors, Guaido told Reuters in an interview last month.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu in Washington; Writing by Ryan Woo; Editing by Nick Macfie and Rosalba O’Brien