After South China Sea, China looks to develop land in Panama Canal

27 March 2017

China is pushing its interests from South China Sea to the seas in America's backyard with state-run Chinese firms expressing interest in developing land around the Panama Canal.

The Panama Canal Authority is planning to develop about 1,200 hectares of land around the waterway to build a logistics park and Chinese firms with expertise in the South China reclamation are eager to develop the land, the chief executive of the vital trade thoroughfare said.

The move is part of China's outward push into infrastructure via railways and ports around the world.

The Panama Canal Authority will officially open a tender to develop about 1,200 hectares of land roughly the size of 1,200 football fields around the waterway by the end of this year into a logistics park, after completing a five-year-long decontamination of the area, Reuters quoted chief executive Jorge Quijano as saying.

Speaking to the news agency ahead of a meeting with the canal's advisory board in Shanghai, Quijano said China Communications Construction Corp, its subsidiary China Harbour Engineering Company and China Railway Group have shown interest in the project.

China is urging its companies to invest in infrastructure overseas as part of Beijing's ''One Belt, One Road'' initiative to improve global trade links and beat a domestic slump.

In fact, state-owned Chinese firms have in recent years have gained investment access to key logistics nodes, including Piraeus in Greece and Bandar Malaysia, a major development project that is set to be the terminal for a proposed high-speed rail link between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.

According to Quijano, ''There are opportunities there, definitely for some of these Chinese companies to participate as a concessionaire, not just as a contractor to build something, but they can actually bid for the concession and then build.'' He did not elaborate.

Besides, the concession will offer opportunities for an operating agreement for a roll-on, roll-off terminal near the canal, the tender for which will be put out in the middle of 2017, he said.

Firms from Japan, China, Norway and South Korea are expected to participate in the tender.

The reclaimed land and terminal would help bring in an annual revenue of ''between $100-$125 million'' after the first five years of operation. Overall, the Panama Canal is expected to bring in $2.8 billion in revenue this year, he said.

Quijano said the canal had attracted 18.3 per cent more tonnage between October and February, versus year-ago levels, driven by a jump in liquefied petroleum gas, liquefied natural gas and container shipments.

After more than $5 billion and close to a decade of construction, Panama is opening the long-awaited expansion of its storied canal. Set to potentially double its current cargo, the expansion has weathered cost disputes, serious questions regarding its design and a global slump in international shipping.

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