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Panama opens embassy in Beijing, as leader voices support for ‘one-China’ principle

More from Catherine Wong on President Varelas visit to China

Panama’s President Juan Carlos Varela voiced his support for the “one-China” principle on Thursday as the country opened its first embassy in Beijing, five months after it ditched Taiwan and established diplomatic ties with the mainland.

Varela, who is on a weeklong visit to China, is expected to meet President Xi Jinping on Friday, when the two will witness the signing of about 20 agreements.

He said that he and Xi had agreed to initiate political dialogue and discuss issues such as cooperation on tourism, justice, trade and maritime logistics.

Panama’s President Varela voiced his support for the “one-China” principle as his country opened an embassy in Beijing. Photo: Simon Song

“I believe that safeguarding the ‘one China’ principle is one of the decisions that will bring benefits to the people I serve,” he said.

In June, Panama announced that it was breaking ties with Taiwan to establish full diplomatic relations with China, the second-largest user of the Panama Canal.

The move was a major diplomatic victory for Beijing as it turns up the pressure on self-ruling Taiwan, which it regards as a breakaway province.

China, with its huge economic clout, has steadily sought to lure away the dwindling number of countries that maintain diplomatic ties with the island.

Beijing is deeply suspicious of Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen and her independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party, despite her saying she wanted to maintain peace and the status quo with the mainland.

Just 19 UN member states and the Vatican recognise the Republic of China, as the Taiwan government is officially known.

Varela, who denied cutting ties with Taipei was an example of chequebook diplomacy, said in June that the decision would bring investment, trade and tourism opportunities to Panama.

Foreign minister Wang Yi, who attended the embassy opening ceremony, praised Var­ela for opening negotiations with Beijing, calling it the “right decision that will stand the test of time”.

“Before you came, you told the media you would undertake this trip to China because it was your dream,” Wang said.

“I’d like to tell you: Your dream has come true.”

The Central American country’s decision to establish ties with Beijing “would serve the interests of Panama and was in line with the trend of world development”, Wang said.

As well as his talks with Xi, Varela is expected to visit Shanghai to attend a business forum.

In an earlier interview with the South China Morning Post, Panama’s envoy to China Francisco Carlo Escobar said the two countries were planning to discuss a number of possible trade agreements.

Panama would seek to attract Chinese investors to its Colon Free Trade Zone, located near the Atlantic entrance to the Panama Canal, he said, while another deal would seek to allow airlines to operate flights between the two countries.

Additional reporting by Stuart Lau

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