China’s foreign minister to visit Panama to forge new ties

Tourism, trade and maritime issues on the agenda for top-level meeting this weekend

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 September, 2017, 2:31pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 September, 2017, 9:57pm

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi will visit Panama at the end of this week, according to officials – three months after the countries established diplomatic ties at the expense of Taiwan.

The Central American nation’s foreign ministry said Wang would lead a delegation aimed at “advancing the bilateral agenda of Panama and China”, including on tourism exchanges, trade links and the maritime environment.

He will meet Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela on Saturday.

Varela announced his country had opened diplomatic relations with China on June 12, upgrading ties previously focused only on trade.

Panama – China’s newest ally – sends security and trade envoys to Beijing for talks

That automatically ruptured diplomatic relations with Taiwan, which China regards as a renegade province.

China is the second-biggest user of the Panama Canal after the United States.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Panama was an important Latin American country and there had been a long history of friendly exchanges between the two peoples.

Geng said the decision by Panama to switch diplomatic ties to Beijing opened a new chapter in China-Panama relations, adding that China is willing to push forward relations with Panama with a quick start and in a steady way.

The number of countries recognising Taiwan has dwindled in recent years as Beijing has boosted efforts to lure the self-ruled island’s allies.

Why diplomatic ties with Panama are so important to Beijing

The last country before Panama to switch its allegiance was the African island nation of Sao Tome and Principe, in December.

Now only 20 countries have diplomatic relations with Taiwan, most of them small island states or in Central and South America – regions that in the past had limited economic ties with Beijing.

Taiwan said it felt “anger and regret” over what it called a “very unfriendly” diplomatic turn by Panama that “yielded to economic interests by the Beijing authorities”.