PANAMA CITY – Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela welcomed his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, on Monday to the government headquarters in Panama City for an historic bilateral meeting at which they will sign about 20 cooperation agreements.
Xi, who landed in Panama Sunday night after participating in the G20 summit in Argentina and was received with honors at the airport by Varela, went to the Palacio de las Garzas, Panama’s government headquarters, about 11:00 am.
This is the first official visit by a Chinese leader to Panama after the Central American nation established diplomatic relations with Beijing in June 2017 and broke the ties that it had maintained up to that point with Taiwan, which mainland China considers to be a rebel province.
The two leaders will hold a private bilateral meeting, although their foreign ministers and working teams will also attend, and afterwards they will give a joint statement to the media.
The agreements to be signed by Varela and Xi include pacts in tourism, training, languages, agriculture and visa flexibility and come after another 20 or so accords were signed in November 2017, when Varela made a state visit to Beijing.
During his stay in Panama, Xi will also meet with businessmen and with members of the Chinese community in the Central American country. He will also hold a meeting with the head of the Panamanian Parliament and make a tour of the Panama Canal, through which 6 percent of world trade passes, including much Chinese commerce.
China, with which Panama is negotiating a free trade treaty, maintains an important presence in the Central American country. It is the second biggest user – after the US – of the Panama Canal, and the first provider in the Colon Free Trade Zone on Panama’s Caribbean coast, the hemisphere’s largest free trade area.
Chinese firms, in addition, recently have won multimillion dollar bids to build a kilometer-long (about 0.6 miles) bridge over the Panama Canal, a convention center and a cruise ship terminal.