Panama Officially Joins the Belt and Road Initiative
Nov. 17, 2017 (EIRNS)—In state visit to China, Panama’s President Juan Carlos Varela has officially embraced the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Today, Panama’s Foreign Ministry issued a press release stating that
"reinforcing the role of the Isthmus as the great connection, Panama adheres to the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative, in which our country plays a key role thanks to the Panama Canal, our logistical and financial platform, and our neutrality."
It adds that in this role, Panama "opens the doors to consolidating us as China’s entry point into Latin America."
This morning, following an official welcome ceremony, President Varela met with President Xi Jinping, who underscored that the two nations had entered a "new era," and praised Varela’s "strategic vision." Establishing ties with China was, he said, "an act of heroism" which will "go down in history." Varela told Xi that his government supports the BRI and that China and Panama can work together to advance this great project in Ibero-America and the Caribbean to improve world connectivity. Key to this will be cooperation in maritime affairs, port development, railways and logistics, he said.
After their private meeting, the two presided over the signing of 19 cooperation accords, many of which are directly linked to the BRI, spanning economics and trade, agriculture, infrastructure investment, transportation, science, and technology and maritime matters. They also laid the groundwork for signing a Free Trade Agreement, which will reinforce China’s role as the second largest client of the Panama Canal after the United States, and the number-one supplier of goods to the Colón Free Trade Zone.
In commenting on the presidents’ meeting, Zhao Bentang, head of the Foreign Ministry’s Department of Ibero-American and Caribbean Affairs, underscored Panama’s importance for China, particularly as it relates to expansion of the Belt and Road, and especially the Maritime Silk Road. "Panama," he said,
"is the newest of our circle of new friends. It is well-positioned in terms of geography, logistics and openness. It can naturally become a connection in the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road for Ibero-America and the Caribbean....This good beginning in relations with Panama will also provide new energy to China’s relationship with Ibero-America." La Estrella de Panama noted that great emphasis was placed on the "mutual benefit" that will result from "the infrastructure and development project known as the New Silk Road."