Next week, China’s President and Leader of the Communist Party Xi Jinping will visit Panama to expand his regime’s growing influence over the Americas, China’s foreign ministry announced Friday. From November 30 to December 1, President Xi and United States (U.S.) President Donald Trump will meet at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires and are expected to discuss their ongoing trade war as each of the world’s two largest economies assert their dominance for geopolitical influence of the region.
On December 3, President Xi will meet with Panama’s President Juan Carlos to sign over two dozen agreements on sectors including science, technology, commerce, and infrastructure. China’s decision to strengthen diplomatic ties comes after Panama’s government announced last year that it would abandon its allegiance to Taiwan and support the one-China principle, which does not recognize Taiwan as an independent country. China recently hosted leaders from the Dominican Republic and El Salvador, promising increased investment and generous aid packages after both countries also announced they would cut diplomatic ties with Taipei in favor of supporting the one-China principle.
The number of university students studying Spanish and Portuguese in China has increased dramatically, indicating the nation’s growing strategic interest in the region. Panama, for example, is widely considered an area of strategic importance to U.S. influence the western hemisphere, with the eighty-two kilometer/fifty-one-mile Panama Canal linking the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. China’s government has long considered the continent full of opportunities to expand its own influence, mainly by using its economic and financial power to forge predatory relationships with some of the continent’s most impoverished nations and ideologically sympathetic governments.
Last week, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence warned smaller countries not to be seduced by China’s promises of economic security, arguing that such packages lead to countries experiencing “serious debt problems from accepting loans that are not transparent.”
Latin America studies expert at Taiwan’s Tamkang University Francisco Luis Perez told the South China Morning Post that Panama may be less willing to bow down to China because of fears of damaging their relationship with the U.S. Perez said, “Following the stern warnings from the United States, Xi’s trip keeps on being a potential bargaining chip to get things from the US, but it also constitutes a serious risk of creating tensions with a geographically close power. “I do not expect Panama to risk and make strategic or political pacts with China during the trip, but instead to focus on economic issues without much military or strategic impact.”