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Chinese project to link Pacific- Atlantic Oceans through a new shipping channel

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Nedine Hilmi

China has planned a huge project within the framework of its Belt and Road initiative to curb US influence in Latin America through the state of Colombia. This Chinese project aims to link the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of Colombia and Latin America to counter and limit the growing US influence there.  This Chinese-Colombian project is to construct an “alternative to the Panama Canal”, aimed at (linking the Pacific coast with the Atlantic coast of Colombia).  Colombia announced that it is negotiating with China to build an alternative to the Panama Canal, with the aim of enhancing the flow of goods between Asia and Latin America. The Chinese-Colombian plan is based on the “establishment of a “dry channel” through which it can connect the “Colombian port of Benaventura with the Atlantic shores via a railway crossing Colombia”. Trade between Colombia and China increased to $5 billion this year, 2023.  The announcement of that alternative canal to Panama came from the words of the new Colombian president elected in 2022 “Gustavo Petro” that the project is a “serious proposal, but it is very advanced”. China is working to increase its influence in Latin America to satisfy its needs for raw materials and commodities.

The importance of the Panama Canal for the American side comes in particular, given that it is a shipping lane connecting the Pacific Ocean with the Atlantic Ocean and the American East, as the best way in front of it is the “Panama Canal”.  On the Chinese side, in the past five years, China has doubled its presence and points of influence in Central and Latin America, and it has included the “Panama Canal” as one of the important maritime points in the Belt and Road initiative that China put forward in 2013, and what increased American anger is the Panamanian government’s signature  There is an important agreement with its Chinese counterpart so that Panama will be part of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative, and thus the State of Panama will be the first Latin government to sign an agreement of this kind with the Chinese. This Chinese-Panamanian rapprochement resulted in the signing of a deal between them, for the Chinese acquisition of Panama’s largest port on “Margarita island” on the Atlantic side and within the “Cowloon free trade zone”, which is the largest free trade zone in the western hemisphere. China also signed a major contract to manage and operate the “port of Christopol” in Panama, and this port is managed by the “Chinese Hutchison Ports Company”, a company based in Hong Kong, bearing in mind that the “Chinese Hutchison Ports Company” wants to renew for another twenty-five years in  The Panamanian port, and submitted a request for that in March 2021 to the Panamanian government, which aroused Washington’s ire towards Beijing’s moves in Panama and Latin America, as it is the closest back wall to the United States of America in the face of China. This is what the Americans consider as a warning bell indicating the growing presence of China in Washington’s backyard.

However, this new Chinese announcement and planning to establish an alternative canal to Panama comes after the drought and water shortage of  “Gatun Lake”, which feeds the Panama Canal in Latin America with fresh water needed to carry ships during their passage from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic.  But the severe drought in “Gatun Lake” has caused the water level in the lake to drop below the normal level, which led to the imposition of restrictions on the tonnage of ships and increased fees paid by them in order to cross the Panama Canal. Therefore, the Chinese thought seriously about planning to establish an alternative canal to Panama, fearing that if the levels of “Lake Gatun” continued to decline as expected, the market’s reaction would be the rise in shipping prices and the rush to find alternative routes, foremost of which is (linking the Colombian port of Benaventura to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean via  Colombian railroad).

China seeks, through the establishment of this alternative canal to the Panama Canal in the “Colombian port of Benaventura or through the state of Nicaragua”, to integrate all Latin American countries within the framework of its Belt and Road initiative, especially since there are (7 South American countries) that are already part of the belt and road Chinese initiative, which are countries: (Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Uruguay). The only country that has diplomatic relations with Taiwan is Paraguay, which is closely related to the United States of America. In addition to this, it is clear that China strongly desires to increase its economic and military presence in the Caribbean region, by strengthening its relations with the State of Colombia in particular, which helps it to blockade and encircle the United States of America, and enabling China – which is more important – to defeat the United States of America in its hegemony over South and Latin America. Therefore, the Chinese planning came to limit the American influence through the Panama Canal, given its location in the region separating the Americas, as the Panama Canal mainly serves the global trade movement between the American ports on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean and the American Gulf and its trading partners in the continent of Asia. Therefore, Beijing thought of building its own canal, and wondered why it did not establish a new corridor between the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. Indeed, the Chinese have re-directed an old project to construct a maritime transport canal in Nicaragua or Colombia. The idea and proposal of the project dates back to the nineteenth century, specifically in 1825, when Napoleon III wrote an article on the effectiveness of realizing such a project.

The new Nicaragua canal or the new Columbia canal – if it is built – will extend to a 276 km stretch of the Panama Canal.  Thus, the new corridor will allow the passage of more ships, including Chinese giant tankers, such as containers and oil tankers.  It will also directly link the east with the west, unlike the Panama Canal, which passes through the south until it reaches the north.

Chinese businessman “Wang Jang” the telecommunications giant in Hong Kong, is tasked with financing this project to construct an alternative canal to the Panama Canal, with Chinese funding, whether in Nicaragua or Colombia. But no one understands why the Hong Kong giant  “Wang Jang” is interested in financing such a huge engineering project, but the only explanation is that  Wang Jang is a pseudonymous representative of the Chinese government in this context.  Despite his continued repetition of the non-participation of the Chinese government in the project, it is difficult to think that Beijing might let one of its men take over a huge project like this, without interfering with it. Perhaps this huge investment to create an alternative Chinese canal to the Panama Canal is the largest project implemented by China in Latin America. Thus, the Chinese strategy of replacing the United States of America in the south and center of the Latin continent becomes clear, which is considered a reversal of the old approach launched by former US President Monroe in 1823, which was considered that “all of the American continent is an exclusive area of ​​the United States of America”.

Here lies the issue of the (Nicaragua Canal or the alternative canal to the Panama Canal in the Colombian port of Benaventura), at the heart of China’s strategic game, which wants to replace the United States of America in its home in Latin America.  In addition to its work to ensure a navigational corridor for its ships much larger than the Panama Canal corridor, which it hardly succeeds in crossing in light of that complete American control over it.  Although the Chinese have been working in Latin America for nearly twenty years in silence, the world is now paying attention to their great presence in the Latin continent.

The new Colombian President Gustavo Petro, plans that Sino-Colombian relations will lead to economic development and address the roots of the problems behind the 50-year-old civil war in the country, such as: poverty and lack of opportunities, which pushed people to rebellion or the drug trade. With the current Colombian President Gustavo Petro welcoming the investment of more Chinese companies in his country, to draw a map for the development of relations for the next 40 years, deepening cooperation in areas such as: trade, economy, science and technology, culture and sports, and pushing towards achieving more results in bilateral relations.

Accordingly, we understand that this new situation to enhance the rapprochement between Colombia, China and Nicaragua in order to establish an alternative channel to the Panama Canal, paves the way for an increase in Chinese influence in Latin America, especially after Washington left a vacuum in the leadership of the Latin region, despite the reaffirmation of White House officials on the nature of  Specifically, the strategic alliance between the United States and Colombia. However, soon powers came from outside the region, led by China, to fill that American void, and the distance between the two parties may also widen due to the existing differences between the current Colombian President Gustavo Petro and the administration of US President Joe Biden on issues such as the method of implementing the peace agreement in Colombia between the warring parties.