By Lesley Wroughton and Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Inter-American Development Bank on Friday called off next week’s meeting of its 48 member countries in China after Beijing refused to allow a representative of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido to attend, two sources with knowledge of the decision said.
The sources said the decision was made in Washington on Friday at a meeting of the executive board of the IADB, Latin America’s largest development lender, after China refused to change its position.
The sources said the board would vote within 30 days to reschedule the annual meeting for another date and location.
On Thursday, the United States threatened to derail the March 26-31 meeting unless Beijing granted a visa to Guaido’s representative, Harvard economist Ricardo Hausmann.
The meeting, slated to bring together finance and development ministers from the lender’s members, was meant to mark the bank’s 60th anniversary.
Guaido invoked the constitution to assume Venezuela’s interim presidency in January, saying the re-election of President Nicolas Maduro was not legitimate. Most Western countries have recognized Guaido as head of state, but Russia and China, among others, back Maduro.
One source, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters on Thursday that China had proposed that no representative from either Maduro’s or Guaido’s camps attend the meeting to “depoliticize” the gathering.
The White House was not immediately available to comment, and China’s embassy in Washington did not respond to an emailed question on the IADB’s decision.
In a statement posted later on its website, the IADB confirmed that the meeting would not take place on March 28-30 in the city of Chengdu as planned, but it did not give a reason.
China’s foreign ministry said in its own statement it regretted the decision but bore no responsibility.
Spokesman Geng Shuang said China “had difficulty allowing” Guaido’s representative to attend because Guaido himself lacked legal standing.
“Changing Venezuela’s representative at the IADB won’t help solve Venezuela’s problems and (the proposal) damaged the atmosphere of the IADB annual meeting and disturbed preparations for the meeting,” he said.
The Washington-based IADB was the first multilateral lender to replace a Maduro-selected representative with one backed by Guaido. The move would eventually open lines of credit to Venezuela should Maduro step down.
The International Monetary Fund and World Bank have so far not made a decision on whether to recognize Guaido officially as head of state.
Had the annual meeting taken place next week, it would have been the first time the IADB held it in China. The Asian country has become a major player in Latin America and has poured more than $50 billion into Venezuela over the past decade in oil-for-loan agreements.
Trump administration officials have called on the IADB since last year to hold the meeting in the Americas, where all of its borrowers are located.
With relations between Washington and Beijing marred by an acrimonious trade dispute, U.S. officials have expressed concern in recent months at China’s growing influence in Latin America – a region Washington has long regarded as its backyard.
(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton and Roberta Rampton; Additional reporting by John Ruwitch in Shanghai and Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Leslie Adler and Rosalba O’Brien)