Since the 2013, China has made major infrastructure investments worldwide as part of President Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). One significant recipient of Chinese investment has been Panama, which under former President Juan Carlos Varela switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to the People’s Republic of China in 2017, resulting in a windfall of increased support from Beijing and a December 2018 visit to Panama by Xi.

Proposed Chinese investments in Panama in recent years have included bridges, a rail line, commercial ports, and a cruise ship terminal. But one of the most significant projects proposed during Varela’s administration was the Panama Colon Container Port (PCCP), a new port facility that would have been strategically located at the Panama Canal’s Caribbean entrance and promised to greatly increase transshipment capacity following a 2015 expansion of the canal’s locks. A consortium of PRC companies led by Landbridge Group – a Chinese conglomerate with equities in ports, oil and gas, real estate and other areas – promised to invest an estimated $900 million in building PCCP.

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Christopher Cairns is a Research Scientist in the China and Indo-Pacific Security Affairs Division at the Center for Naval Analyses. His research focuses on China's growing global security, economic and diplomatic footprint, PRC strategic communication, computer-assisted methods for analyzing website and digital media data, and statistical analysis.