Varela becomes first Panamanian president to make state visit to China

World Today

Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela reaches to kiss a girl holding a floral bouquet during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Friday, Nov. 17, 2017. Varela was making his first state visit to Beijing on Friday after breaking off relations with Taiwan and establishing formal ties with China five months ago. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

President Xi Jinping officially welcomed Panama’s President Juan Carlos Varela to Beijing. China sees Panama as a key relationship in Central America. The two leaders agreed to strengthen relations while witnessing the signing of a series of deals.

CGTN’s Hou Na has more.

President Xi welcomed President Varela to Beijing, praising him for what he called political courage.

“China and Panama established diplomatic ties based on the One-China Policy,” Xi said. “During this process, Mr. President, you have shown great vision, political courage and responsibility.”

President Varela thanked President Xi for his hospitality, and said he looked forward to deepening cooperation with China.

Varela’s first state visit to China comes five months after the two countries established full diplomatic relations. In June, Panama broke off ties with leaders in Taipei, Taiwan to come closer to Beijing.

Even before the change of course, however, China and Panama had expanded economic and trade cooperation in many sectors. The bilateral meeting in Beijing further strengthened those trade, tourist, and diplomatic ties. The two presidents oversaw the signing of 19 agreements on tourism, justice, trade and shipping.

Panama says it supports China’s Belt and Road Initiative – which comprises the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road – and hopes to be a part of it, serving as a bridge that links China with other countries in the region.

China is the second biggest user of the Panama Canal, and Panama is courting Chinese investors to its Free Trade Zone near the Atlantic entrance to the canal. Another deal will allow airlines to operate flights between the two countries.