Panama deal likely to “finally scupper” Nicaragua canal: Chinese state media

China’s $1bn project to build a new deepwater port by the Panama Canal, which began days before Panama finally cut ties with Taiwan, is likely to "finally scupper" the controversial and long-stalled Nicaragua canal, an article in a Chinese state newspaper has claimed.

The company China Landbridge’s project to turn Margarita Island at the Caribbean mouth of Panama’s canal into the 13th largest container port in the world was called a "huge boost" for China’s Belt and Road initiative, in contrast to the plan by another Chinese company to build a $50bn transoceanic canal in Nicaragua, which has seen little progress since work was ceremonially launched in December 2014.

Following its cherished One China policy, China has rewarded countries that cut ties with Taiwan with generous infrastructure deals.

That made the decision of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s strident backing of Taiwan at the beginning of this year difficult to understand.

While not mentioning Ortega’s move, the article in the staunchly pro-Beijing newspaper Global Times reserved hard words for the Nicaragua canal, which had been heavily promoted by Chinese billionaire Wang Jing and his company HKND.

"Some saw it as a chance to rival the US-dominated Panama Canal; others saw it as a massively wasteful boondoggle that had little chance of succeeding," wrote guest writer Chris Dalby, described as "Mexico-based analyst of Chinese politics and economics".

Dalby went on: "Wang talked up the project regularly but he lost much of his fortune during the stock market crash of 2015 and there has been no recent evidence that the project is underway."

The Landbridge deal, he said, "is also likely to finally scupper the controversial and troubled plans to build a new canal through Nicaragua".

"The Chinese authorities did not formally back Wang’s project, and with the expanded Panama Canal presenting all the more opportunities, it would appear unlikely for them do so at all," Dalby concluded.

The writer also said: "Although Landbridge is ostensibly a private company, its management is directly tied to the Chinese government, making it a good stepping stone toward diplomatic ties. For China, the deal makes complete sense."

The Chinese government has remained resolutely silent on the Nicaragua canal, which has concerned scientists because of the environmental damage they say it would cause.

Appearing in the Global Times, considered a loyal mouthpiece of the ruling Communist Party, this article may be the clearest signal yet of Beijing’s stance – and of the demise of the Nicaragua scheme.

  • See the article here.

Image: Map shows various proposals for the Nicaragua canal route, and Panama’s canal (Wikimedia Commons)

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  1. The Proposed Nica Canal is either an economic or political statement for China. In a most simple analysis an basic evaluation, neither makes sense to the common man of the world – or Nicaragua. While on the otherhand, clean water and saving the environment makes all the more sense. even the most ardent capitalist and idisrialist cannot deny this stance.

  2. As the author of the piece, it’s probably worth pointing out that the views within it are entirely my own, although heavily drawn on what I observed of the Chinese government’s reaction.

    I pitched it to Global Times, it was not mandated to me, and this should absolutely not be taken as being the views of any official in Beijing.

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