Two years ago, the U.S. government began to question a Chinese businessman’s motives to purchase Perico Island, in El Salvador, the U.S. network NBC News reported on September 4, 2021.
The Shared Opportunities, Shared Future project, which seeks to develop a special economic zone along the coastal strip of El Salvador and build a deep-water port and a manufacturing area, is represented by the Chinese state-owned company Asia-Pacific Xuanhao, The New York Times reported in September 2019. This high-tech manufacturing company is linked to the Chinese Army, the Guatemalan newspaper El Periódico reported.
The special economic zone would allow China to advance its plans to establish an alternative trade route to the Panama Canal and enhance its interests in the region. It would also give Beijing a valuable perch to expand its military and intelligence capabilities in Latin America, The New York Times reported.
“Chinese influence is global, and it is everywhere in this hemisphere, and moving forward in alarming ways,” U.S. Navy Admiral Craig S. Faller, commander of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), said in an interview with NBC News on September 4.
In addition, the Spanish newspaper El País reported that China, through its New Silk Road expansionist mission, also plans to build an airport and tourist areas over a 2,800-square-kilometer area between the ports of La Libertad and La Unión, in the Gulf of Fonseca, El Salvador.
Searching for ports
The Mexico-based Latin American Economic Observatory (OBELA, in Spanish) said on its website that Beijing already controls docks and has new port projects from Mexico to Uruguay. “These projects in the Caribbean and Central American region set off alarm bells […] about Chinese state-owned enterprises and their predatory activity” in the region, OBELA said.
In 2018, Asia-Pacific Xuanhao sought a 100-year lease of 13 percent of the Salvadoran territory in the port of La Unión, and requested tax exemptions valid for 30 years for its companies, The New York Times reported.
“China is proposing to expand the port [of La Unión] and establish trade zones that would exclude U.S. and European companies, allowing Chinese port operators, Chinese shipping companies, and likely Chinese service providers to dominate the zones,” Evan Ellis, professor of Latin American Studies at the U.S. Army War College Strategic Studies Institute, told NBC News.
Ellis noted that China aims to use the port and trade zones to import Chinese goods and distribute them to other Central American markets, using Chinese companies to store these products.
Threat for Honduras
The “Chinese project in the Gulf of Fonseca is a threat to Honduras, since it is Honduras’s only access to the Pacific,” the Salvadoran newspaper La Prensa reported on June 1. Graco Pérez, an expert in international law and Asian affairs, told La Prensa that “the Chinese project disrupts the tri-national initiative to develop the Gulf of Fonseca, which El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua had agreed upon, with funding from the Central American Bank for Economic Integration.”
The NBC News report said that “China is increasingly adept at using bribes and other corrupt methods to advance its commercial interests, something that is illegal for American corporations to do.”