China agreed to several small oil deals with Venezuela this week but gave no public confirmation that it would extend more loans to the cash-strapped country during a rare visit by President Nicolás Maduro to Beijing. Venezuela faces a stiff payment scheduled over the next two months of about $2bn to bondholders, some of whom have debt secured against US-based refiner Citgo, and in compensation to western oil companies for past nationalizations in Venezuela. Simon Zerpa, Venezuelan finance minister, said earlier this week that Beijing would extend a $5bn loan to Caracas.

But Premier Li Keqiang, while saying that China would help Venezuela, made no mention of that money and urged Caracas to provide more “policy support and legal guarantees”, according to official statements released on Friday.  Mr Maduro visited China with a high-level delegation this week, declaring on arrival that the Asian giant was Venezuela’s “big sister”, after China lent the country more than $50bn over the past 10 years, mostly backed by oil deliveries.

The largest loan, from the China Development Bank in 2010, was worth more than $20bn. Typically, terms are not made public. Venezuela has a pressing need to boost oil production, which has fallen by half a million barrels a day this year to about 1.2m b/d — about a third of output levels when former president Hugo Chávez came to power in 1999.