Central America Begins To Enter the Belt and Road; Waiting for U.S. to Join, Too

September 18, 2017

Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi today presided over the ceremony opening the first-ever Embassy of the People's Republic of China in Panama. "A new era begins in which we should be closer than ever on behalf of our people's well-being. Geographic distance will not be an obstacle to our being allies," President Varela said there.

Up until a few months ago, Panama, like most Central American nations, had diplomatic relations with Taiwan, and not with the PRC.

President Varela met with Wang on Sept. 16, and emphasized Panama's importance as a logistical, port and air platform, inviting China to make use of it as China's bridge and commercial arm into all of Ibero-America.

Three days earlier, Panama's first Ambassador to China, Francisco Carlo Escobar, had presented his credentials in Beijing, where he emphasized in an interview published by Xinhua on Sept. 16 that Panama is very interested in the Belt and Road Initiative, and bringing the BRI to all Ibero-America. He told Xinhua that "Panama can be [a strategic place] ... for logistical distribution and perhaps to present certain infrastructure projects which could help the Belt and Road Initiative in the region."

Wang confirmed to President Varela that President Xi Jinping will receive him before the end of 2017 in Beijing, where he expects they will sign a number of the more than 20 agreements now being negotiated between the two nations. The Panamanian Presidency's wire on the Varela-Wang meeting reports that Varela will also officially open Panama's Embassy in Beijing and Consulate in Shanghai during that trip, as well as visit Guangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing, to promote business and tourism.

An official from the Economics Unit of the Panama Canal Authority, Eddie Tapiero, zeroed in on the real strategic potential of these relations, when he said in a recent speech on "Panama's New Relations with China and the Possible Implications for the Canal: OBOR," that beyond increasing trade through its new relations with China, Panama is also joining in the Chinese intiative "which will change the world in the coming years," the Belt and Road Initiative which, he said, the United States must also join.

Panama's La Estrella quoted Tapiero Sunday: The Belt and Road is "a new business model of globalization in the world, and Panama should not be alien to it. The U.S. as the main partner of all countries in Latin America needs to be part of the initiative. With all the players working towards the same goal, the countries will achieve a balance in their strength and stability in the long term."

The Belt and Road was also emphasized in Wang's stop in Costa Rica, the only other Central American country which has relations with the P.R.C., established 10 years ago. Before Wang's visit, on Sept. 1 President Luis Guillermo Solis had spoken with enthusiasm of the potential of Chinese-Costa Rican relations, but argued that before participating in the Belt and Road Initiative, bilateral relations should first be expanded. However, after Wang's visit on Sept. 15, where he met with both the President and Costa Rican Foreign Minister Manuel Gonzalez, Gonzalez said Costa Rica is ready to actively take part in building China's Belt and Road Initiative, which will promote Costa Rica's own development. He added that Costa Rica is willing to explore trilateral cooperation with China and Panama.

Teddy Roosevelt has to be rolling over in his grave. And Lyndon LaRouche's friend Gen. Manuel Noriega is surely smiling happily.