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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.

Post a Comment

Blogger Bonnie said...
Hi, I would like to point out that, according to the treaty (ies) signed by Torrijos and Carter in 1977, if the Panama Canal is in danger due to war or any other similar acts, the United States has the priority over the Panama Canal to protect it if it is needed, the United States is therefore the potency providing security and protection to the Panama Canal. One treaty was signed to turn over the Panama Canal to Panama by 1999 and the second one grants the United States the priority to act and be present (as I recall it) in case of any danger to the Panama Canal.
Friday, March 7, 2008 7:10:00 PM EST  

Blogger CornStoves said...
Chicken eating crow. Why not tell the Chinese checkered truth about the Canal the US built in Panama and handed over to China. Why back down into a watered down bold faced lie. A measley e-mail waters down the truth about the Chinese owned Panama Canal. Standing tall during war is not in the cards.
Wednesday, March 12, 2008 5:13:00 PM EDT  

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Welcome to the lighter side of Military & Aerospace Electronics. This is where our staff recount tales of the strange, the weird, and the otherwise offbeat. We could put news here, but we have the rest of our Website for that. Enjoy our scribblings, and feel free to add your own opinions. You might also get to know us in the process. Proceed at your own risk.

John Keller for MAE
John Keller is editor-in-chief of Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine, which provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronic and optoelectronic technologies in military, space, and commercial aviation applications. A member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since the magazine's founding in 1989, Mr. Keller took over as chief editor in 1995.

Courtney Howard for MAE Courtney E. Howard is senior editor of Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine. She is responsible for writing news stories and feature articles for the print publication, as well as composing daily news for the magazine's Website and assembling the weekly electronic newsletter. Her features have appeared in such high-tech trade publications as Military & Aerospace Electronics, Computer Graphics World, Electronic Publishing, Small Times, and The Audio Amateur.

John McHale for MAE John McHale is executive editor of Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine, where he has been covering the defense Industry for more than dozen years. During that time he also led PennWell's launches of magazines and shows on homeland security and a defense publication and website in Europe. Mr. McHale has served as chairman of the Military & Aerospace Electronics Forum and its Advisory Council since 2004. He lives in Boston with his golf clubs.