Panama's president visits China following break with Taiwan

Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela is making his first state visit to Beijing after breaking off relations with Taiwan and establishing formal ties with China five months ago.

Varela was to meet Friday with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People after officially opening the Panamanian Embassy in Beijing a day earlier.

Panama's break with Taiwan left the self-governing democracy with just 20 diplomatic allies. China claims the island and has campaigned to isolate it globally.

China is the second-most frequent user of the Panama Canal after the United States, and a Chinese consortium operates the ports at both ends of the passageway.

With China rapidly expanding its economic footprint abroad, Varela hopes the new relationship will be an economic boon to his Central American nation.