PANAMA CITY, June 13 (Xinhua) -- In just 12 months, the newly established diplomatic ties between China and Panama have seen progress "in all spheres," Chinese Ambassador to Panama Wei Qiang has said.
Wei made the remarks during an interview with Xinhua upon the first anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between the two countries.
Over the past year, China and Panama have regularly exchanged greetings and congratulatory messages on key dates, using the opportunity to underscore their friendship.
The ambassador recalled that in November, Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela was the first Latin American head of state to visit China shortly after the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China.
"The two countries outlined a detailed plan to foster ties and reached important agreements on cooperation," said Wei.
Since then, China and Panama have made "significant progress covering areas such as trade, investment and finance, maritime transport and civil aviation, agriculture, infrastructure, quality control and tourism," he said.
The two countries also signed a memorandum of understanding to promote the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative, making Panama the first Latin American country to sign such a document, said the ambassador.
He said that Panama has expressed willingness to play a key role in expanding the initiative -- which originally envisioned developing a modern-day Silk Road to bolster trade between Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe -- to Latin America.
"Feasibility studies are already underway for the construction of a rail line connecting Panama City with the west coast province of Chiriqui, to facilitate cargo shipments," said Wei.
In the field of trade and economy, officials expect to begin negotiations on a free trade agreement as soon as the feasibility studies are completed, he said.
Meanwhile, quality control agencies in the two countries have stepped up cooperation to facilitate the flow of goods, especially Panamanian fish and coffee imports to the Chinese market.
More than 40 Chinese companies are currently operating in Panama, taking advantage of the Central American country's ideal location for accessing neighboring markets in the region and the Caribbean, said Wei.
"Chinese companies in Panama are investing in a range of areas, including ports, bridge and highway construction, energy, retail sales and automobiles, while financial cooperation is on the rise with the arrival of several Chinese financial institutions," he said.
The two countries are also increasing cultural exchanges, with Panama's first Confucius Institute preparing to offer Chinese language classes in the coming days, and more Panamanian students than ever before studying in China.
"Thanks to the launch of a direct flight between Panama City and Beijing, and reciprocal measures to ease the visa application process, exchanges between the two countries have rapidly grown, and an increasing number of Chinese tourists is choosing to travel to Panama," the ambassador said.