Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas
China and Latin America

Panama’s Evolving Relationship with China

AQ tracks how the country has managed its ties with Beijing.

This article is adapted from AQ’s special report on the battle over fake news. Click here to learn about other governments’ relationships with China.

IN OFFICE SINCE 2019

Laurentino
Cortizo

“All these differences between two great countries affect the mood of the world. … Use your head, use common sense, find a way to get closer and not keep the world the way you have it.”
—May 2019, speaking about the governments of China and the U.S.

 

“Relations with the Chinese must be developed with everything above the table, nothing below the table, and with full transparency.”
—December 2019

The Cortizo administration has cooled relations with Beijing, in a departure from the prior administration’s rapid turn toward China. Former President Juan Carlos Varela switched Panama’s diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to the People’s Republic of China in 2017 and oversaw extensive investments from China, but progress on some infrastructure projects has stalled since Cortizo entered office. In September 2019, for example, the Cortizo government canceled a $4.1 billion Chinese-funded high-speed rail line project. And while Varela led efforts to sign a free trade agreement with China, the Cortizo government has insisted on redefining the scope of the negotiations. His administration also ruled out purchasing Chinese covid-19 vaccines in 2021. Still, there are undeniable ties binding the two countries. Panama is part of the Belt and Road Initiative, and in June the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China became the second Chinese bank to operate in Panama, following the Bank of China. Bilateral trade grew by 19% from 2018 to 2019, in part due to Panama’s booming copper industry, of which over 60% of exports headed to China. The government has stated it is in negotiations to finance a $1.4 billion fourth bridge over the Panama Canal; it signed a contract for the project with a Chinese consortium in 2018.

“All these differences between two great countries affect the mood of the world. … Use your head, use common sense, find a way to get closer and not keep the world the way you have it.”
—May 2019, speaking about the governments of China and the U.S.

 

“Relations with the Chinese must be developed with everything above the table, nothing below the table, and with full transparency.”
—December 2019

LARGEST TRADE PARTNER
NO NEW MAJOR CHINESE INVESTMENTS OR FINANCING SINCE 2019
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Tags: China and Latin America, Laurentino Cortizo, Panama, The Battle Over Fake News
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