Chinese firm begins Panama port project after diplomatic ties restored
China re-established diplomatic relations with Central American nation in June, delivering a blow to Taiwan’s efforts to forge ties overseas
A group including China Harbour Engineering Company has started building a US$165 million port in Panama for cruise ships, the first project announced between China and the Latin American nation since they re-established diplomatic ties this year.
The consortium, which includes the Chinese firm and the Belgian company Jan de Nul, will build a terminal that representative Wang Bo said would make the Perico Island area near the entrance to the country’s transoceanic canal a tourist destination.
Panama established diplomatic ties with Beijing in June, breaking with self-ruled Taiwan in a major victory for Beijing, the second most important customer of its key shipping canal. Beijing considers Taiwan a breakaway Chinese province and tries to deter all countries from establishing ties with the island.
Wang added that China Habour Engineering, a subsidiary of state-run China Communications Construction Company, has contracts across the Americas worth US$7 billion.
At an event on Wednesday, Panama’s President Juan Carlos Varela highlighted the involvement of the Chinese company as an advantage of having re-established diplomatic ties and said his next foreign trip would be to China.
“The diplomatic steps we made are bringing very precise benefits to the people of Panama with projects like this where Chinese companies are taking part with efficient costs,” he said.
Panama is China’s largest trading partner in Central America. Trade between the two hit US$6.38 billion in 2016. China’s direct investment in Panama has exceeded US$230 million.
China has contracted projects worth US$1.33 billion in Panama by the end of last year.
Nearly 30 Chinese companies are running marine shipping, telecommunications, financial and infrastructure business in Panama with local partners, creating jobs for local people.
China is the second largest user of the Panama Canal with over 1,000 ships passing through the canal every year.
Juan Carlos Varela said on Tuesday that his government would send an immigration and security delegation to China.
Mainland visitors to Panama will now need an electronic visa stamped in a consulate instead of a restricted visa obtained through a lawyer to visit the country, part of the measures the government hopes will promote tourism and investment.
The security and migration delegation will travel to China for the opening of the Panamanian consulate.