Panamanian leader hails progress in ties with China, backs open trade

Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela said he is satisfied with progress in China-Panama relations after the establishment of bilateral diplomatic ties last June, and has voiced support for open and free trade.

"We felt it (having established diplomatic ties with China) was the right thing to do," said the president on the sidelines of the eighth Summit of the Americas, a two-day summit that concluded here Saturday.

Varela said he was delighted with the steps that had been taken since the establishment of bilateral ties ten months ago, including the signing of over 20 agreements in different sectors, which are being implemented.

As an example, he mentioned the first direct flight operated by Air China between Beijing and Panama City, with a stopover in Houston. Panama has also been included as an "approved tourism destination" by Chinese travel agencies, providing Chinese visitors with better access.

"We have opened our embassy in Beijing and our consulate in Shanghai," Varela added.

During the interview with Xinhua, Varela also advocated further boosting global trade.

Concerning the speech made by Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Boao Forum for Asia last week, in which he defended open trade, Varela said he was in support of a world with open border and with larger movements of people and goods.

Varela said he believes in the message of Xi that we live in a planet where residents are able to enhance exchange of trade, tourism and culture, as well as to conduct safe and positive migration.

Varela said Panama was a "firm believer" in China's Belt and Road Initiative.

"Panama adheres to the vision of the Belt and Road Initiative, as we are firm believers in connectivity ... through our canal, our ports and airports. We support all initiatives which strengthen connectivity," he told Xinhua.

"The first project as part of this initiative, once we finish the feasibility studies, will be a train from Panama to Costa Rica. We also want to extend it to other Central American countries," he said.

Varela said that, beyond China, Panama is looking for more cultural, trade, and tourism exchanges with India, Australia, Africa, the Middle East etc.

China is the second-most frequent user of the Panama Canal after the United States, and a Chinese consortium operates the ports at both ends of the passageway.

Editor: liuyue