Panama welcomes China megaproject bids after diplomatic switch

Panama begins to enjoy fruits of its diplomatic switch as Chinese construction companies start participating in Panama

PANAMA is welcoming bids from two Chinese consortia to design and build the fourth bridge across the Panama Canal. The bids come after Panama switched diplomatic allegiances from Taiwan to China earlier this year, further isolating Taiwan in the diplomatic community.

The Ministerio de Obras Publicas (MOP) in Panama received four bids in total to design and build a fourth bridge across the Panama Canal. Two are from China. These are a consortium comprising China Communications Construction Company and China Harbour Engineering Company, plus a rival consortium made up of China State Construction Engineering Corporation and China Railway Group Limited.

Panama is strengthening its ties with China, and this year ended its diplomatic recognition of Taiwan after many decades. In June, China's foreign minister Wang Yi met his counterpart from Panama, Isabel de Saint Malo, in Beijing, and signed a joint communiqué establishing ties, which came into effect immediately.

On September 17, foreign minister Wang Yi and President Juan Carlos Varela of Panama jointly attended the inauguration of the Chinese Embassy in Panama City. Varela said in another statement in September that he hopes China will finance more energy and infrastructure projects in future, according to local reports.

Chinese companies could also replace Brazil’s Odebrecht in financing Panama’s Chan 2 hydroelectric plant, following Panama’s decision to cancel their contract with Odebrect amid a bribery scandal. Four Chinese airlines have also entered Panama last year, working towards direct flights between the two countries.

Aside the two Chinese consortia, the other two bidders for the Panama Canal bridge are from global engineering group Dragados of Spain, and Consorcio Astaldi made up of DAELIM Industrial together with international construction group Astaldi of Italy. The four bidders presented their proposals at a ceremony hosted by President Varela. He described the bridge as the second most important megaproject for the country, and one which will make Metro Line 3 viable.

The MOP bidding process will have an independent evaluation commission to determine the company that will be awarded the contract. The minister of public works, Ramon Arosemena Crespo, pointed out that the project will bring better connectivity to Panama, promoting greater traffic efficiency in conjunction with the expansion to eight lanes of the Bridge of the Americas.

The main cable bridge will have an approximate total length of 1118 metres. It will be a combined bridge (road and the Line 3 monorail). The vehicular track has two separate carriageways of three lanes each, with a double track for the monorail in the middle.

 

Illustration by Sara Seneviratne.