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Pompeo Cautions Panama and Others

During his visit to Panama this week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo addressed concerns to President Juan Carlos Varela about doing business with China.

In a statement to reporters, Pompeo said, “When China comes calling, it’s not always to the good of your citizens.” The Secretary of State’s comments come at a time when the United States is engaging in a high-stakes trade war with its longtime trade partner. Tensions further increased when it became known that the U.S.’s overseas investment company is currently competing with China to fund infrastructure projects in Panama. China is looking to take part in helping to build ports and railroads in the small country.

 Secretary of State Mike Pompeo giving a speech on nuclear deals with Iran at Ronald Reagan Library last July. Photo:  AP

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo giving a speech on nuclear deals with Iran at Ronald Reagan Library last July. Photo: AP

China’s objective in having a presence in Central America relates to the country’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), one of President Xi Jinping’s strategies to improve relations with other countries. Several of the goals behind the plan include extending aid to Europe, Africa, and other countries in the form of trade and infrastructure. Signed in 2013, the BRI plays a vital part in China’s goal of establishing more economic ties in the near future.

Pompeo also urged other countries to be cautious when dealing with China. He addressed concerns that when Chinese companies “show up with deals that are too good to be true, it’s often the case that they, in fact, are.”

China began seeing Panama as a prospective client after the Latin American country severed ties with Taiwan and became the first nation to sign onto the BRI. After Panama decided to cut ties with Taiwan, the Central American country signed a series of deals with China. This was considered a victory for China, as Taiwan has long seen itself as independent, while China claims that the Taiwan is a part of its territory.

These statements come after a meeting between Pompeo and President Varela in Panama. The two discussed a wide range of issues, including immigration, drug trafficking, and the situations in Venezuela and Nicaragua. These issues have been of great concern to the Trump Administration as of late, with migrants from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador embarking on journeys north towards the United States.

 President of Panama Juan Carlos Varela during an interview at the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo on Monday. Photo:  Satoko Kawasaki

President of Panama Juan Carlos Varela during an interview at the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo on Monday. Photo: Satoko Kawasaki

Pompeo’s statements suggest that U.S relations with the world’s second largest economy continue to be strained. Earlier this month, a U.S Navy destroyer nearly collided with a Chinese warship in the South China Sea. In a statement to reporters, President Donald Trump said that “he [President Xi] may not be my friend anymore.” The two leaders are due to meet at the G20 summit next month.