BEIJING – China said on Tuesday its president’s visit to Panama was a step forward to improve bilateral ties and turn the Latin American country into China’s gateway to Central America.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang told reporters that Xi Jinping and his Panamanian counterpart, Juan Carlos Varela, on Monday reached broad agreements and achieved positive and productive results during their meeting at Presidential Palace in Panama City.
The spokesperson said China would give the Panama Canal more importance in its trade as, due to its strategic location, Panama could became the gateway and point of connection between China and Central America.
He also stressed that Xi’s visit – the first by a Chinese leader to Panama – had led to bilateral cooperation in economy, tourism, logistics, infrastructure, education and health.
China, with whom Panama is negotiating a free trade treaty, already has an important presence in the Central American country.
It is the second largest user of the Panama Canal, after the United States, and the main supplier to Panama’s Colon Free Trade Zone, the largest free port to the Americas.
Xi’s visit to Panama after attending the G20 summit in Buenos Aires is part of China’s plans to expand its influence in Latin America, a region which has historically been in Washington’s sphere of influence.
Since June, when Panama broke diplomatic ties with Taiwan and established relations with China, Beijing has increased its presence in the Central American country with its companies getting multi-million dollar contracts.