Chinese company doesn't operate the Panama Canal ... just both ends of it
Posted by John Keller
I must correct a mistake I made in a blog entry earlier this week entitled Back to the jungle: would U.S. intervene if war comes to South America? In this blog I stated that Panama Canal operations are managed by a company with close ties to the Chinese government. This is an error, which Teresa Arosemena, international communications manager for the Panama Canal Authority, pointed out to me this week in a very polite e-mail.
It is the Panamanian government, through the Panama Canal Authority , that operates the Panama Canal, not a company with ties to the Chinese government, and I sincerely regret the error.
My reason for bringing up the issue of Panama Canal operations revolves around military tensions on the Colombia/Venezuela border, which could lead to a war in close proximity to the Panama Canal -- a strategically important asset to the United States and other Western powers -- as I pointed out in the blog.
More to the point, I mused in the blog whether a Colombia-Venezuela war could drag the United States and China into confrontation in the region. The U.S. is a staunch ally of Colombia, while China is allied with Venezuela. Concerning the Canal, China has interests there, too.
While actual Canal operations are in the hands of the Panamanian government, a Hong Kong-based company, Hutchison Whampoa Ltd. , which reportedly has ties to the government of the People's Republic of China and its military, operates the port facilities on either end of the Panama Canal.
I bring up these facts out of concern for the potential disruption of Panama Canal traffic should the U.S. or its allies come into military confrontation with China . How likely is this? I couldn't say, but it would be exceedingly easy for Chinese agents working through Hutchison Whampoa to halt, slow, or otherwise disrupt Panama Canal shipping traffic if it came to that. The potential is there.
The Panama Canal is of the utmost strategic importance to the United States, as it enables the U.S. Navy to transfer its forces rapidly between the Pacific and Atlantic theaters. The potential for Canal disruption is of dire concern to U.S. military authorities.
It was never my intention to link the Panama Canal Authority with the government of China . I believe no link exists. Hutchison Whampoa operates other port facilities in the Western Hemisphere, in addition to Panama.
I retain my concern, however, that a Chinese company effectively controls the entrances and exits of the Panama Canal at a time when U.S. and Chinese national interests could come into conflict just a couple of hundred miles away.