PANAMA CITY – China's expansion in Latin America of its Belt and Road initiative to build ports and other trade-related facilities is stirring alarm in Washington over Beijing's ambitions in a region that American leaders since the 19th century have seen as off-limits to other powers.
China is hardly a newcomer to the region, but now it's focusing on countries in Central America such as Panama. It's a country of just 4 million people but its canal linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans makes it one of the world's busiest trade arteries and strategically important both to Washington and Beijing.
As American officials express alarm at Beijing's ambitions in the U.S.-dominated Western Hemisphere, China has launched a charm offensive, wooing Panamanian politicians, professionals and journalists. It seems to be paying off.