Visiting with President Juan Carlos Varela of Panama, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo today issued a paternalistic warning regarding China’s Belt and Road Initiative in Latin America, evoking memories of the Monroe Doctrine.
“As his plane left Panama City, Mr. Pompeo recounted his talks with Mr. Varela and local journalists. Clearly concerned that Panama could become a beachhead for growing Chinese economic influence in the Western Hemisphere, he emphasized that Panamanians should be cautious when considering business ties with China.
Mr. Pompeo said he intended to tell the entire region that “when China comes calling, it’s not always to the good of your citizens,” and that countries had to watch out for Chinese companies that “show up with deals that seem too good to be true.”
His warning came more than a year after Panama cut diplomatic relations with Taiwan — which China views as a part of its territory — in favor of establishing ties with Beijing. Two other nations in the region followed suit this year.
Mr. Pompeo visited Panama City for an afternoon, stopping at the presidential palace to meet with Mr. Varela before going to the United States Embassy to address employees there. Mr. Pompeo told reporters on his plane that he had discussed a range of issues with Panamanian leaders, from economic ties to counternarcotics, and that China was one of the priorities.
“The importance isn’t that China is out competing in the world,” he said. “We welcome that. It’s when state-owned enterprises show up in a way that is clearly not transparent, clearly not market-driven and designed not to benefit the people of Panama, but rather to benefit the Chinese government.“