WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. and Panamanian officials are dismissing
concerns that the Panama Canal will somehow fall under the control of
China or any other country after Panama takes over December 31.
Panamanian Alberto Aleman Zubietam, who heads canal operations as chief
administrator and will continue in the job when his country takes over, said
the independent Panama Canal Authority will maintain total control over ship
traffic and all canal activity.
"There will be no influence of any country on the operations of the Panama
Canal," Aleman said Friday at a conference on the canal sponsored by U.S.
and Panamanian businesses.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and other critics of the canal turnover
have raised fears that China may be seeking control of the vital waterway
through a Hong Kong company's port operations.
The canal is a crossing point between the Atlantic and Pacific for 144
shipping routes. Traffic last year reached 14,000 ships carrying 228 million
tons of cargo -- about 4 percent of global seaborne trade.
Aleman said a Hong Kong-based company's operation of ports at both ends
of the canal gives it no control over the canal. The company, Hutchison
Whampoa, operates at ports worldwide and says it has no member of the
Chinese government on its board. It competes with several other companies
at the Panama ports.
U.S. Army Secretary Louis Caldera, who also chairs the soon-to-be
dissolved U.S. Panama Canal Commission, agreed with Aleman that China
could not gain control of the canal, as did former Secretary of State Henry
"In the domestic debate, we should not invent imaginary dangers of foreign
influence threatening the security of the canal," Kissinger said.
Kissinger noted that both the Nixon administration, which he served, and
Carter administration helped renegotiate the canal treaties that turn it over to
Panama at the end of the millennium.
Panama plans improvements in the canal aimed at increasing its capacity
turning it into a profit-making enterprise. Canal financial officers said it
already turned a $29.4 million profit last year.
But engineers said it would be a challenge to find enough water to increase
The United States completed the canal in 1914 and has operated it since
then. It includes a series of locks that lift boats up and over the narrowest
strip of land separating the Atlantic from the Pacific. When it was built by
70,000 workers, it included the world's largest earthen dam, largest artificial
lake and largest concrete structure.
Copyright 1999 The Associated Press.