China-Panama ties bring benefits beyond Latin America

By Liu Lulu Source:Global Times Published: 2017/11/19 23:08:40

Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela embarked on a state visit to China last week, just five months after the establishment of China-Panama diplomatic ties. From accelerated trade exchanges, diplomatic breakthroughs, to the Belt and Road cooperation, the Sino-Panamanian relationship has seen rapid development in recent years, a sign of an irreversible and historic trend.

China has maintained an increasingly strong economic presence in Latin America and the Caribbean region over the years. The country is currently the second-largest client of the Panama Canal, with one in every five ships that uses the transoceanic waterway travelling from or to China, according to Reuters. "By not having diplomatic relations with them [China], somehow didn't provide a platform for investments in our country," said Jorge Quijano, head of the Panama Canal authority, stressing the importance of Sino-Panamanian investment ties in an earlier interview. In 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged to invest $250 billion in Latin American and Caribbean countries over the next 10 years.

In contrast to China's intense exchanges with regional countries, US President Donald Trump announced he will quit a package of multilateral trade deals and has embraced isolationism in foreign policies since assuming office. Panama attaches great importance to maritime trade, regarding it as one of its economic pillars, and is now likely to divert its attention from the US to China.

In addition, the Western world is increasingly divided following Brexit, the European debt crisis and Trump's election. Abandoning an ideological mentality and developing ties with China conforms to Panama's self-interests.

Some argue that the US should be alert to China's geostrategic purpose in Central America, and take actions to prevent Beijing from bulking up in Washington's backyard. This is a zero-sum attitude.

A developing China will inevitably strengthen ties with countries in Latin America and the Caribbean region, and extend cooperative projects to the US' "backyard." This has nothing to do with a Cold War, or forming an alliance with regional countries to contain the US. Meanwhile, Washington is actively attempting to tie Asian countries to its chariot, and is even considering building a quadrilateral alliance with India, Australia and Japan in the Asia-Pacific.

Joint development is Beijing's only pursuit. Cooperation between China and Latin American countries conforms to the interests of both the region and China. The Panama Colon Container Port for example is one of China's largest infrastructure projects in Panama. Panama officially embraced the Belt and Road initiative last week, promising to be a significant link between Beijing and Latin America for logistics, the circulation of funds and personnel exchanges.

The establishment of the Sino-Panamanian relationship brings peace and prosperity to the whole region, and the US will also benefit. The West should spurn ideological prejudices against Beijing, and view the China-Panama relationship from an objective point of view.



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