PANAMA CITY, Dec. 2 (Xinhua) -- Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to Panama will mark a milestone in bilateral ties, Panamanian Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Luis Miguel Hincapie has said.
The visit is the first by a Chinese head of state since the two countries established diplomatic ties in June 2017.
In a recent interview with Xinhua, Hincapie said the visit, which started Sunday, shows China attaches importance to its ties with the Central American country.
Xi's visit will put Panama "on the map," he added.
"What we want is ... to serve as the gateway to Latin America for China ... to make the most of our air and maritime connections to the rest of the region so ... Chinese companies can set up shops here and distribute their products and cater to the Latin American market," said Hincapie.
Xi arrived in Panama City late Sunday as part of his ongoing European and Latin American tour from Nov. 27 to Dec. 5, which also includes visits to Spain, Argentina and Portugal.
The president's visit to Panama will help cement the relatively new ties between the two countries, said Hincapie.
Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela paid a state visit to China in November last year.
"We have to see it (the relationship with China) as a benefit to all, to the country," said Hincapie.
Since establishing diplomatic ties, Panama and China have signed a series of cooperation agreements in diverse fields.
"We needed to get closer. The country (Panama) had been awaiting it for many years and now that we are there. We should look ahead," said Hincapie.
Establishing ties with China was a strategic political move that provided Panama with another important cooperation partner, especially in multilateral fora, he said.
While it is still too early to see the bilateral ties yielding results in the economic sectors, the relationship has already had a positive impact, including the first direct flight between China and Panama, with a technical stopover in Houston, and the arrival of Chinese companies in Panama, said Hincapie.
Panama is not so much a producer country as it is a service provider, said Hincapie. Its location between North and South America has made it a hub for airlines, while the Panama Canal serves global trade by offering a shortcut connecting the Pacific Ocean with the Atlantic Ocean.
Panama is also keen on making its geographic advantages part of the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative.
Such an initiative, along with China's vision of a community with a shared future for mankind, "shows China wants to be part of the integration of the world," the Panamanian official said.