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Cablegate: No Recognition for Prc Anytime Soon - Panama Sticks With

VZCZCXYZ0000
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHZP #0089/01 0542102
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 232102Z FEB 10
FM AMEMBASSY PANAMA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0467
INFO RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEHBE/AMEMBASSY BELMOPAN
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 0003
RUEHBO/AMEMBASSY BOGOTA
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS
RUEHGT/AMEMBASSY GUATEMALA
RUEHIN/AIT TAIPEI TW 0003
RUEHMU/AMEMBASSY MANAGUA
RUEHPE/AMEMBASSY LIMA
RUEHSJ/AMEMBASSY SAN JOSE
RUEHSN/AMEMBASSY SAN SALVADOR
RUEHTG/AMEMBASSY TEGUCIGALPA 0083
RUEHZP/AMEMBASSY PANAMA
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC
RUMIESS/SOUTHCOM IESS MIAMI FL

C O N F I D E N T I A L PANAMA 000089

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 2020/02/23
TAGS: PREL PGOV PM CH TW ECON
SUBJECT: No Recognition for PRC Anytime Soon - Panama Sticks with
Taiwan

REF: 09 PANAMA 461; 09 SAN JOSE 985; 10 PANAMA 29

CLASSIFIED BY: Stephenson, Ambassador; REASON: 1.4(B), (D)

Summary

1. (U) The GOP has renewed its commitment to Panama's longstanding
relationship with Taiwan, despite public statements by President
Ricardo Martinelli in 2009 that Panama would opt for formal
diplomatic ties with the People's Republic of China (PRC).
Martinelli attempted to follow through with his plan for
recognizing the PRC but was told to back off by the Chinese.
Taiwan has used financial incentives to retain the backing of the
Martinelli administration, generating controversy over the recent
"donation" of a $22 million business jet for the government's
official use. End Summary.

Hurry up and Wait

2. (C) On January 6, Foreign Minister Juan Carlos Varela agreed to
a "five-year cooperation" plan with Taiwan which includes the
donation of $25 million for construction of a hospital on the
outskirts of Panama City in Chilibre - Las Cumbres and the donation
of a $22 million executive business jet. Varela had to backtrack
in announcing the cooperation plan; during their 2009 presidential
campaign, both he and President Martinelli publicly indicated that
Panama would recognize the growing economic relationship with
China, as well as China's particular interests in Panama, by
establishing formal diplomatic relations. During his first
meeting as President with the Ambassador in May 2009, Martinelli
said that he was "going to recognize Beijing" as he thought that
Panama's business community would benefit as a result (Ref A).

3. (C) Martinelli may have had in mind the type of cooperation that
Costa Rica has been enjoying with the PRC since establishing formal
ties in 2007 (Ref B). However, FM Varela stated to the Ambassador
on February 18 that he was told by the Chinese Foreign Minister
during his visit to Asia the previous month that, due to diplomatic
overtures underway between Beijing and Taipei, now was not the time
for Panama to recognize the PRC. On February 1, Costa Rican
President Oscar Arias informed a Colombian diplomat that Martinelli
told him Panama wanted to follow Costa Rica's lead but that the
Chinese had asked him to "remain calm" and that the PRC was not
interested in furthering diplomatic ties in the region for the time
being. Chinese diplomats have related to Poloff in Costa Rica
that the PRC was concerned that diplomatic recognition from other
Latin American countries might damage their recently improved
relations with Taiwan (Ref B).

4. (U) While Panama and Taiwan have full diplomatic relations, the
PRC maintains only a trade mission in Panama. The PRC has
important economic interests in Panama; Hong Kong-based companies
operate two of the four ports on both the Atlantic and Pacific
terminus of the Panama Canal and the PRC is the second most
frequent user of the waterway. The PRC is also the largest
supplier of goods to the Colon Free Zone (CFZ), the world's second
largest free trade zone. Taiwan and Panama, meanwhile, signed a
free trade agreement in 2003. The ethnic Chinese community in
Panama remains publicly agnostic on the issue of official
recognition for the PRC. "Chino-Panamanos" number between 130,000
and 200,000 (roughly 4-6% of the population) and are ubiquitous in
the convenience store or "mini-super" industry.


Where Does the Money Go?

5. (U) Varela's confirmation of the renewal of ties with Taiwan
came on the heels of Taiwan's gift to the GOP of a $22 million
Embraer Legacy 600 executive business jet in December 2009.
Martinelli had previously received criticism for his plans to
purchase a new official jet, which ran counter to his campaign
rhetoric indicating that, with an officially declared personal
fortune of approximately $300 million, he would not need to charge
the public treasury for executive travel. The government of Taiwan
has historically used financial incentives to sweeten its
relationship with Panama: political science professor Miguel
Antonio Bernal estimated aid to be $125 million per year during the
previous administration of President Martin Torrijos.
Scholarships for study in Taiwan and grants to various ministries
are among the ways Taiwan has donated to Panama. Last year during
an address to the Panamanian National Assembly, Taiwanese President
Ma expressed interest in "project-based" aid, specifically
mentioning planned improvements to Panama's mass transit system.

6. (U) The longstanding financial aid has been derided on both
sides of the Pacific as "checkbook diplomacy" and there is a
traditional lack of transparency in how the money received from
Taiwan is spent. Varela stated to Polcouns and the Ambassador that
the money is simply deposited in the treasury. In mid-February of
this year reports surfaced that former president Mireya Moscoso was
facing investigation for the misuse of up to $70 million in funds
from Taiwan. Moscoso has denied any involvement in distribution of
money received by Mar Del Sur, a foundation set up for the sole
purpose of distributing Taiwanese funds.

Comment

7. (C) The GOP decision to publicly back Taiwan is the result of
financial incentives and a current lack of interest by the PRC.
Martinelli seems to have been yearning for a dramatic diplomatic
maneuver in pursuing recognition of the PRC but did not appear to
have factored in the possibility that China would use (or, rather,
not use) Panama for its own ends in improving its relationship with
Taiwan.
STEPHENSON

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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