When the President of China Xi Jinping came to visit Panama, it was a very big deal.
One could say he was just on this side of the globe, but that really wasn’t the case. The Panamanian President, Juan Carlos Varela, didn’t just serve Xi some of the world’s best Geisha coffee, they also signed a raft of business deals which solidified Panama’s role as a strategic partner with China and allowed Panama to diversify their independence even further.
Lots Of Celebrating
There was a lot of pomp & circumstance on the evening of December 2nd at Tocumen International Airport where President Xi and his wife, Peng Liyuan, were greeted by Panamanian President Varela and his wife, Lorena Castillo. Children waved flowers and flags of the two countries while Xi and Varela reviewed the guard of honor. Local performers danced in native Panamanian dress while others wore Gran Diablo costumes representing the struggle between good and evil. It was an amazing show of support for the Chinese leader as well as recognizing the long-standing relationship between the two countries.
Of course the Chinese have been part of Panama for over 160 years when the first workers came to build the Panama Canal. Today, there are many Panamanians with a Chinese heritage and they are a strong part of Panama’s economic environment.
“Opportunities For Investors”
In an earlier written statement, Xi said, “In recent years…Panama has enjoyed rapid growth, vibrant markets and improving living standards. It has become a most habitable place in the Americas to live and a promising land of opportunities for investors. Seeing such progress, I am truly happy for Panama and wish Panama new and still greater accomplishments in its future development.”
The visit of Xi was a broad statement about the commitment China has made to advance progressive initiatives in Panama. It included non-reimbursable aid, which will fund infrastructure projects throughout the country. Other accords included joint initiatives concerning education, tourism and a memoranda of understanding on commercial activities.
Panama’s Largest Trading Partner
Earlier agreements had been signed when Varela visited China last year after Panama officially cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan and established a formal alliance with Beijing. China is important to Panama and is Panama’s largest supplier to the Colón Free Trade Zone and the second biggest user of the Panama Canal, surpassed only by the United States. As of April 2018, China was Panama’s largest trading partner with $6.34 billion USD followed by United States with $6.12 billion USD in trades.
The Importance of Panama
While China is certainly a big player on the world stage, Panama is small but incredibly powerful because of the Canal and its role in international logistics. To continue to grow and solidify Panama’s role as the de facto business capital of Central America, Panama needs to continue to compete effectively on the world stage, weighing the advantages of all its suitors including China and the United States.
There Was Concern
Of course the visit was met with concern. Would China attempt to change Panama’s freedoms and commitment to a solid democracy? Their actions will play out over the years but it is safe to say Panama is in a position to manage all countries, especially those who command such a large presence in the world economy. Because of our gifted geographical location, we celebrate multiple independence days; countries have fought to control Panama for years. Today we are a different country, much stronger and in a position to sit at the global table as a full partner. We are able to offer incredible opportunities for Panamanians and investors from around the world while taking care of our interests.