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Panama – Connecting China with Latin America

China Today,October 30, 2017 Adjust font size:

The Chinese Community in Panama

Although diplomatic relations were established only several months ago, the ties between China and Panama date back more than 160 years. In 1854, the first group of Chinese workers arrived in Panama to participate in the construction of the trans-Isthmus railway, which united the coasts of the Pacific and the Caribbean, and which served as the main international cargo route until the construction of the Panama Canal.

President Juan Carlos Varela has highlighted the construction of the trans-Isthmus railway as a key factor in the later construction of the famous canal. It should also be noted that on June 26, 2016, a Chinese vessel, the container ship Cosco Shipping Panama, made history by being the first to pass through the recently expanded Panama Canal. “This was also in recognition of the Chinese community in Panama, which has played a significant role in the economic and social development of our country,” said President Varela.

It is estimated that there are more than 150,000 Panamanians of Chinese descent, one of the largest communities in Latin America. “The Chinese presence in Panama is very strong,” says Katiuska Hernández, a Venezuelan journalist who lives in Panama City and works for the Martes Financiero magazine of the Panamanian daily newspaper La Prensa. “Every corner of the capital has a Chinese grocery store, where Panamanians stock up on food, household goods, and general everyday items,” Hernandez added in a dialogue with China Today.

In Panama City there is a district called El Dorado, made up of several middle-class enclaves, which has become a new and thriving Chinatown in the capital. “There are several shopping plazas with Asian restaurants and supermarkets. The Chinese New Year celebrations are a prominent event where the Chinese community holds a big festival to showcase their culture and promote trade,” said Katiuska Hernández, adding that there is a long tradition in Panama of eating Chinese dishes for breakfast.

In fact, thanks to a deep-rooted Chinese presence, rice is now a staple food for Panamanians, as well as the custom of enjoying dim sum and yum cha (dessert and tea from China’s Guangdong Province). Gastronomy is a reflection of the deep ties between the two countries which they hope to strengthen by more exchanges between the two governments and peoples in the future.  

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