China’s Control of the Panama Canal Revisited.
Excerpt: China’s increasing influence in the Western Hemisphere has been of growing interest to lawmakers on Capitol Hill. In fact, on June 11, 2008, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere held a hearing entitled “The New Challenge: China in the Western Hemisphere.”[i] In the hearing, experts on Latin America pointed out that total trade between China and the Latin American and Caribbean region skyrocketed from $8.2 billion to $102 billion in less than ten years. Furthermore, those testifying mentioned that Chinese President Hu Jintao’s visit to several Latin American countries in 2004 underscored China’s increased presence in the hemisphere. During his visit, Hu stated that China would invest $100 billion in the region over the next decade. Over the past years, several Latin American countries that had no diplomatic ties with the People’s Republic of China have now established them. For instance, in 2007, Costa Rica aborted its ties with Taiwan and established diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China, primarily for economic and financial reasons.[i] However, the most important indicator of China’s growing influence is its control over the ports at both ends of the Panama Canal. China has been operating these ports since 2000 and their influence inside Panama has grown as indicated by a bill submitted last year to the legislature that mandates teaching Mandarin in all Panamanian public schools.[ii] Currently the Panama Ports Company,[i] a subsidiary of Hutchison Whampoa Ltd.,[ii] has exclusive and extensive rights to control both ends of the Panama Canal. Hutchison Whampoa is a Chinese company owned by Hong Kong billionaire, Li Ka-Shing, who has strong ties with Beijing. Considering Li’s close ties with the Chinese government, it is highly plausible that Hutchison Whampoa has the potential to act as Beijing’s political agent and that their possession of the ports at either end of the Panama Canal constitutes a serious U.S. national security issue.