Rival started rumors about China influence, firm says
PANAMA -- (AFP) -- Charges that China could cut off traffic through
Canal because a Hong Kong-based group controls ports at either end of the
waterway originated with a rival firm, said a top official from the group, Hutchison
U.S. conservatives have charged that Panama Ports Co., a subsidiary
Hutchison Port Holdings, is a front for communist Chinese penetration into Latin
Hutchison Port Holdings is the port component of the Hong Kong-based
Hutchison Whampoa, a vast conglomerate that includes a hotel chain,
supermarkets, bridges, cellular phones and a radio station.
Hutchison Port Holdings chief John Meredith said the story first
surfaced in 1996,
when his company won a 25-year lease to operate sites in Panama.
Hutchison is investing $250 million to build a cargo transshipment
hub on the
Pacific side of the canal, and a small cargo site and a port for tourist ships on the
``We don't have ships or containers or direct involvement with
the movement of
ships through the canal,'' Meredith said. ``We don't even have Chinese employees
He called charges of communist control of the firm specious. Hong
billionaire Li Ka-shing owns 45 percent of the company's publicly traded shares,
Meredith said, but ``no [mainland] Chinese shareholder to our knowledge owns
more than one percent of the shares.''
Charges that Hutchison Whampoa would act as a front for Chinese
were likely raised by a U.S.-based competitor, Meredith said.