A top-level Nicaraguan delegation - headed by the president's son - travelled to mainland China and Hong Kong last week to discuss what could be the world's largest waterway project, the South China Morning Post has learned. The visit is the first to mainland China by such a large and high-powered delegation since Nicaragua switched diplomatic recognition from Beijing to Taipei in 1990. Laureano Ortega Murillo - the son of Nicaragua's president, Daniel Ortega - led a group of 21 politicians, academics and businessmen on a tour to Beijing, Wuhan , Xuzhou and Hong Kong. They were hosted by the Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development Investment (HKND), a company established last year to handle a US$40 billion canal project that would connect the Pacific Ocean with the Atlantic Ocean through Nicaragua. Both governments wanted to keep the deal low-profile. Ortega junior declined to comment but the HKND chairman, Wang Jing, 41, said the project was "strictly commercial". The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing also stressed it was not a government-backed project. Still, given the delicate nature of the project and the relationship between Nicaragua, Beijing and Taipei, it could have wide geopolitical implications. Nicaragua is one of the 23 countries that recognise Taipei instead of Beijing. The tour happened three weeks after Nicaraguan foreign minister Samuel Santos Lopez angered Taipei when he referred to Taiwan as China-Taiwan in a statement. Delegation member Francisco Telemaco Talavera Siles, the president of the National Council of Universities, said: "We are in a special moment in China and in Nicaragua. We are starting a new historical phase that is going to see closer relations." Arturo Cruz Sequeira, the country's former ambassador to the United States who was also part of the group, said the trip was not official but it was a sign that "ties with Beijing are improving". "Without a doubt, trade [and] investment are huge components of the relationship. If the canal project goes ahead, the presence of China in all of its manifestations is going to be self-evident," he said. For the project to materialise, they still need to win over sceptics in Nicaragua. "We have doubts if it is technically possible," said Telemaco. "But now we are convinced that in China, we have [found] the technical capacity [and] the economic capacity." HKND has hired engineers from state-owned China Railway Construction Corporation to plan and design the canal. A longer and different version of this article appears here.