Jackson, The Chinese competition


Chinese industry makes a move here

photos and comment by Eric Jackson

Rather quickly, starting last year, a major and conglomerated move by several Chinese industrial brands has announced its presence around Panama. Total tool stores, Carbone machine tools, Dongfeng automobiles and so on, and their outdoor advertisements, have become well nigh ubiquitous.

Do quality and price match the billing? That will be seen over time.

Should economic apparatchiki at the American Embassy be alarmed? They would be foolish not to take notice, but it’s not as if US industry has all of a sudden faced strong opposition. Does Dongfeng grab a share of the Panamanian automotive market? Like Japan’s Toyota, South Korea’s Hyundai, other Asian manufacturers and various European brands before them? But if Panama is neither the US “back yard” nor the captive market of a country that does not effectively protect its own market, it is one more battleground in a global rivalry between the United States and China.

Due largely to Chinese abuses in decades past and the critical importance of the Internet – originally a US military project – to the US economy and government communications, the United States launched some devastating attacks on China’s Huawei technology company. This is probably why Panama does not have a Huawei 5G Internet network, even if the Americans and their advanced allies really don’t have a viable competitor in place. And still, Huawei does sell things in Panama.

It’s also not as if, as they get their feet on the ground and learn the economic lay of the land in Panama, Donfeng has no new US competition. At the El Boulevard shopping center on Penonome’s west side, there’s a new Chevrolet dealership. Is this an opening move for General Motors to fight for the electric car market that’s expected to emerge to dominance? But then, consult the union brothers and sisters of the United Auto Workers about how much of the content of GM products are union-made in the USA. They make it their business to keep track of such things and will add their caveats if and when cars with imported parts that are assembled in the United States – or are assembled in Mexico to bear the brand of a US-based multinational corporation – get billed as US products.

The Chinese competition is here. These companies come to a country with a long-established – since the late 1840s – ethnic Chinese community, a community that has faced some substantial Panamanian racism, including a short-lived move in 1941 to strip all Panamanians of Chinese ancestry of their citizenship. There’s no call for Cold War paranoia, nor for appeals to base prejudices, but the rivalries and capabilities of global giants are facts that Panama must take into account.

These low-quality photos were taken from a moving bus on a ride between Panama City and the foot of the foothills in Cocle.

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