Executive Intelligence Review


China Highlights Panama’s ‘Extraordinary Strategic Position’ in the Belt and Road Initiative

Jan. 23, 2018 (EIRNS)—In a Jan. 22 press conference in Panama City to discuss the importance of the just-concluded meeting in Chile of the China-CELAC Forum, China’s Ambassador to Panama Wei Qiang discussed his country’s rapidly-developing bilateral relationship with Panama, and emphasized Panama’s “extraordinary strategic position” in the Belt and Road Initiative, due to its strategic location, its trade, logistical capabilities, and its role as “an important financial center.”

While no date has yet been set for President Xi Jinping’s visit to the country, Wei underscored that the Chinese President’s desire and willingness to visit “is firm.” When the date is set, the announcement will be made simultaneously by both governments.

One might interpret Wei’s words as a message to those Central American, Caribbean, and South American countries that still maintain diplomatic relations with Taiwan, as he pointed out the benefits Panama is enjoying having established diplomatic relations with China seven months ago. There are five Central American and five Caribbean nations, and one South American country which still maintain ties to Taiwan rather than to Beijing.

Wei particularly expressed his satisfaction with the “rapid results” in bilateral relations seen in those seven months with more rapid progress to be made in the future, “to make up for lost time,” as some Panamanian officials have explained it. He pointed to visits by high-level delegations to each other’s countries—with more planned; as well as the signing of at least 20 cooperation agreements, the excellent cooperation existing between him and Panama’s Ambassador to China, and the great progress in “human and cultural connectivity.” A feasibility study is already underway for negotiating a Free Trade Agreement between them, as well. Just last week, he reported, executives from the Bank of China and the Industrial and Commerce Bank of China (ICBC) visited the country to explore expansion of their operations in the Panamanian market.

Ambassador Wei said that with Panama’s participation in the Belt and Road Initiative, which was discussed last week by Panama’s Deputy Foreign Minister and Wang Xiaotao of China’s National Reform and Development Commission (NRDC), several projects can get underway, the first of which is the pre-feasibility study for the proposed high-speed rail line between Panama City and Chiriqui on the Costa Rican border. A train that would connect all of Central America could become a reality sometime in the future, he said pointedly. But first, the Panamanian portion of it should be completed. President Juan Carlos Varela attached great importance to this megaproject, and had asked China to get involved, Wei said.