Gandásegui, Panama and China’s Silk Road (2)

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Presidents Varela and Xi in Beijing. Photo by the Presidencia.

Panama and China’s Silk Road (2)

by Marco Gandásegui, hijo

A careful reading of the accords between the governments of Panama and the Peoples Republic of China that were signed in Beijing during President Varela’s trip there indicates in detail the object that China seeks in Panama and in the rest of the region. At the same time, it makes it clear that Panamanian business and government leaders don’t have any vision for the future (or for the country). The Chinese have presented a plan for the next 50 years, with investments of $500 billion in the first 20 years. On the other hand, the leaders who control the levers of power in Panama have no proposal, they haven’t drafted any plan and they are just waiting for the Chinese to arrive.

The game is very dangerous for both sides. China could meet with a short term popular resistance if it does not take into account the interests of ordinary people. Its projects only contemplate economic accumulation for this country and some marginal gains for a parasitic oligarchy. The accords could benefit Panamanians if they are incorporated into a national development plan.

Last week we reviewed the first 10 agreements between the two governments. Now let’s see the remaining nine.

Agreement number 11 refers to the boost that the Chinese want to give to Panamanian duty free zones. In the case of the Colon Free Zone it mentions a $3 billion investment for new stores and another billion dollars for hotels. The investments and new stores would be to handle Chinese products destined for the rest of the region.

The 12th agreement is about tourism and its potential as a source of income for investors. China would give Panama the status of “approved tourist destination” for its citizens to travel to the isthmus. The agreement emphasizes that Chinese “much appreciate casino tourism.” The text included little about other forms of tourism that are prohibited in most countries of the world and tolerated in Panama.

Agreement number 13 refers to aviation. According to the text, China will build a new cargo terminal in Panama City at a cost of $10 billion. Everything indicates that the Chinese intend to complement the interoceanic Panama Canal with an aerial “canal” that would connect Latin America with China. If we add the railway project, Panama will be turned into a continental maritime, aerial and land “hub.”

Agreement number 14 refers to maritime cooperation. The Panamanian flag that is sold to the large shipping companies would receive international treatment in Chinese ports. This business is very much desired by important firms in Panama. Equal treatment is added for the crews of Panamanian ships. The agreement does not mention the labor rights of unionized sailors.

In Agreement 15 Panama “adheres” to the Silk Road. According to the document, the Road is “is aligned with the role that the country plays in the region and the world as the Great Connection that will be enhanced by the inclusion of the interoceanic route.”

The 16th agreement make reference to the much touted “bullet train” that would unite Panama City with the Costa Rican border. The agreement says that China “would pay for the state-of-the-art transport system” whose cost would be $2 billion (less than the cost of Metro Line 2 in Panama City).

Agreeement number 17 makes reference to embassy properties in both countries. China gave Panama a seven-story property in Beijing, worth $150 million.

Agreement 18 aims at organizing a seminar for journalists.

The last agreement refers to a non-refundable cooperation agreement within the framework of a National Cooperation Plan.

The Great Connection is the key to understanding the objectives of China in Panama. The Silk Road would reach the entire Latin American region through the Isthmus of Panama, which is the Great Connection. Panamanians have to decide now if we want to remain a “step” or if we are willing to become a country with a productive population. The Chinese offer that opportunity. We Panamanians have to take advantage of it within the framework of a national development plan.

 

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These announcements are interactive. Click on them for more information.

 

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