Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela traveled to China on Monday to participate together with Panamanian businesspeople, exporters and farmers at the Shanghai trade fair. He said the purpose of this visit is "to promote Panama".
"Panama has a large delegation, I think it is the most important presence of Panama in a fair (...) and I inaugurate the Panama Pavilion on November 7," said Varela on October 25, when he announced his trip this Monday after a series of official events in the Caribbean city of Colón.
The recent visit of President Juan Carlos Varela to Cuba and the one that begins in Shanghai, China today, seeks to strengthen and expand relations with both countries for the benefit of the Panamanian nation, said the Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs of Panama, Luis Miguel Hincapié on October 31.
Panama is negotiating a free trade agreement (FTA) and has signed more than 20 cooperation agreements with China since both countries established diplomatic relations in June 2017.
Before the announcement last October on the Panamanian Government participation in the Shanghai trade fair, questions about relations with the United States were not long in coming to President Varela, who clearly stated that "We are a neutral country, sovereign, dignified", besides highlighting that the problems and tension between the Asian country and the United States, must be solved by means of dialogue, not causing more problems.
In an exclusive interview with Panamatoday.com, concerning the former ambassador of the Organization of American States (OAS) in Panama, Guillermo Cochez’s opinion on government decisions, business and agreements with China he expressed his doubts and suspicions between both countries. "It is a unilateral decision, without any discussion, which was carried out by President Varela, without any consultation with the sectors affected. Overnight we decided to break relations with Taiwan and take up relations with the Republic of China. I applauded the measure because it shows that Panama is aligned with the most powerful countries in the world; however, the secrecy of the agreements signed with China, the isolation of the president regarding this problem, the appointment of a second cousin of the President in the Embassy of Panama in China and his decision to give four hectares across the Panama Canal to the embassy of the Republic of China, the first thing that the ships would see upon entering the Pacific was the Chinese flag. Thanks that we knock it down, all that means that we have mismanaged relations with China," Cochez said.
The consequences of these agreements could affect relations between the United States and Panama. The diplomat believes that ignorance of the issue discussed in these relations could have a negative impact on relations with the Americans, "the United States does not matter what happens in Panama. It is just interested in the Canal’s operation". Cochez also criticized that Panama did not demand from China the signing of the Pact of Neutrality on the Panama Canal before establishing relations.
Meanwhile, US secretary Mike Pompeo explained after his visit to Panama last October that "We want to make sure that when countries make investments (with other countries), including China, they do in accordance with international laws that are positive for the Panamanian people," said Pompeo in the Panamanian capital.
Varela became in November 2017 the first Panamanian president to officially visit China, where he was received by his colleague, Xi Jinping, to inaugurate "a new era" in bilateral relations.
China has been an important trading partner of Panama for years: it is the first supplier of the Colón Free Zone (ZLC), the largest in the continent, and the second most important user of the Interoceanic Canal, only behind the United States.