Pana­ma­nian politi­cian blazes a trail for China ties

China Daily - - HOLIDAY | PEOPLE - By ZHOU JIN zhou­jin@chi­

A Chi­nese-born Pana­ma­nian politi­cian, who acted as a key in­ter­me­di­ary for the China-Panama di­plo­matic re­la­tion­ship, is in many ways blaz­ing a trail for that re­la­tion­ship.

Chen Guoji, ad­vi­sor to Pana­ma­nian Pres­i­dent Juan Car­los Varela, is a Pana­ma­nian of­fi­cial who still cares deeply for his coun­try of birth.

Dur­ing two years work­ing at the Panama-China Trade De­vel­op­ment Of­fice, Chen de­voted him­self to pro­mot­ing friend­ship be­tween the two coun­tries.

Ac­cord­ing to Chen, the two coun­tries be­gan ne­go­ti­a­tions on es­tab­lish­ing di­plo­matic re­la­tions in 1994, and Varela ex­pressed his wish to es­tab­lish di­plo­matic ties with China about 10 years ago. Fi­nally in June 13, 2017, the two coun­tries es­tab­lished di­plo­matic re­la­tions.

Chen wit­nessed the en­tire process of the es­tab­lish­ment of di­plo­matic ties be­tween China and Panama, and ac­com­pa­nied the Pana­ma­nian for­eign min­is­ter to sign the di­plo­matic mem­o­ran­dum with For­eign Min­is­ter Wang Yi in Bei­jing.

“See­ing the two coun­tries es­tab­lish­ing di­plo­matic re­la­tions is see­ing years of hard work and hope fi­nally come true”, Chen said dur­ing a cer­e­mony in Jan­uary in Bei­jing hon­or­ing his work.

“When I look back at the mo­ment when the two for­eign min­is­ters signed the mem­o­ran­dum and see­ing the flags of the two coun­tries rise to­gether, I felt ex­cited”, he added.

Chen ac­com­pa­nied the Pana­ma­nian pres­i­dent dur­ing his visit to China in Novem­ber.

China and Panama signed 19 co­op­er­a­tion agree­ments dur­ing Varela’s visit, and the two coun­tries’ trade min­is­ters said in De­cem­ber that they will be­gin ne­go­ti­a­tions in June to sign a free-trade deal, con­sol­i­dat­ing a re­la­tion­ship that has strength­ened af­ter the Cen­tral Amer­i­can na­tion ditched ties with Tai­wan.

Air China will open the first di­rect flights to Panama in March.

“Open­ing di­rect flights will make it con­ve­nient for those eth­nic Chi­nese in Panama to come back to China and visit their fam­i­lies”, Chen said, adding that trade co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the two coun­tries will boost their busi­nesses in Panama.

Panama could take ad­van­tage of its abun­dant re­sources, geo­graph­i­cal po­si­tion and ex­pe­ri­ences in ship­ping, lo­gis­tics and fi­nance to co­op­er­ate with China and the two coun­tries are highly com­ple­men­tary in in­dus­try, he said.

“More and more Chi­nese en­ter­prises will in­vest in Panama, and ex­changes and co­op­er­a­tion in bi­lat­eral trade, cul­ture and other fields will also be­come more fre­quent”, he said.

Orig­i­nally from South China’s Guang­dong prov­ince, Chen’s fam­ily im­mi­grated to Panama when he was 16 years old.

He has been liv­ing and work­ing in Panama for 36 years. Ini­tially, he started work­ing for the fam­ily busi­ness, and later be­gan his own busi­ness ca­reer, en­gag­ing in re­tail, trade and real es­tate.

Although he is suc­cess­ful in busi­ness, he raised con­cerns about the lo­cal Chi­nese com­mu­nity in Panama over their lack of po­lit­i­cal in­volve­ment.

The eth­nic Chi­nese com­mu­nity in Panama be­gan to form in the lat­ter half of the 19th cen­tury af­ter a group of 705 Chi­nese work­ers ar­rived in Panama on the clip­per Sea

Witch in 1854. They have had a pres­ence in the coun­try for more than 160 years, and about 200,000 live there now.

The Chi­nese who came to Panama in the early years worked as la­bor­ers, re­paired rail­ways and built the fa­mous canal. Grad­u­ally, they started their own busi­nesses.

Their ded­i­ca­tion, hard work and am­bi­tion have seen many Pana­ma­ni­ans of Chi­nese ori­gin reach in­flu­en­tial po­si­tions as suc­cess­ful en­trepreneurs and pro­fes­sion­als, and they have con­trib­uted greatly to the eco­nomic, cul­tural, so­cial and tech­no­log­i­cal de­vel­op­ment of Panama.

In 1996, the Pana­ma­nian govern­ment is­sued a set of postage stamps to mark the con­tri­bu­tion of those with Chi­nese her­itage. In 2004, the govern­ment set aside March 30 as an an­nual day of com­mem­o­ra­tion.

How­ever, most eth­nic Chi­nese, de­spite their com­mer­cial suc­cess, stay clear of po­lit­i­cal in­volve­ment.

“In many other coun­tries, those of Chi­nese eth­nic­ity are in­volved with pol­i­tics”, Chen said, adding that their lack of in­volve­ment may hin­der their com­mu­nity’s de­vel­op­ment.

With the in­ten­tion of “mak­ing a voice for the Chi­nese com­mu­nity,” Chen started his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer in 2005 and joined the Panameñis­tas Party led by Varela.

In the fol­low­ing years, he and Varela have been work­ing to­gether. in 2014, Varela won the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion and Chen be­came one of his key ad­vi­sors.

Since then, Chen has been ded­i­cated to cham­pi­oning the in­ter­ests and sta­tus of eth­nic Chi­nese.

In 2016, as a mem­ber of Panama’s Na­tional Eth­nic Chi­nese Coun­cil, Chen and other eth­nic Chi­nese mem­bers lob­bied the govern­ment to is­sue a spe­cial ad­min­is­tra­tive or­der, to pro­vide longterm le­gal res­i­dency for Chi­nese cit­i­zens who stayed in the coun­try il­le­gally for var­i­ous rea­sons.


Chen Guoji, ad­vi­sor to the Pana­ma­nian pres­i­dent, has been at the fore­front of China-Panama ties.

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