Energy is back in the headlines in a way not seen since the 1970s. Europe's reliance on natural gas from Russia is under increased scrutiny because of the ongoing turmoil in Ukraine. China recently signed a multiyear, multibillion-dollar gas deal with Russia that underlines the strengthened economic and political cooperation between the two neighbors. Meanwhile, the United States is at the epicenter of a shale oil and gas revolution that is transforming domestic as well as global energy markets and politics. Yet while perhaps less noticed, the energy-based relationships that the United States and China each have with Venezuela—and the interactions among those three countries—have geopolitical implications that are particularly pressing.
Venezuela has the world's largest proven oil reserves, more than Saudi Arabia, more even than Iran and Iraq combined. The United States and China are the world's two largest economies, the two largest global oil importers, and Venezuela's two most important oil partners. Combined, China and the United States consumed more than half of Venezuela's total oil exports in 2013.