Chinese Firm to Build Panama Canal Rival

A Chinese company has been awarded a 100-year, $40 billion contract to build and operate a canal across Nicaragua, competing with the nearly 100-year-old Panama Canal. From Jonathan Watts at The Guardian:

The president of the country’s national assembly, Rene Nuñez, announced the $40bn (£26bn) project, which will reinforce Beijing’s growing influence on global trade and weaken US dominance over the key shipping route between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

[…] According to a bill submitted to congress last year, Nicaragua’s canal will be 22 metres deep, 20 metres wide and 286 km (178 miles) long – bigger than Panama and Suez in all dimensions.

[…] Two former Colombian officials recently accused China of influencing the international court of justice to secure the territorial waters that Nicaragua needs for the project. [Source]

The project has yet to be approved by the national assembly or to receive an environmental impact assessment, but at The Nicaragua Dispatch, Tim Rogers writes that a Sandinista supermajority is likely to guarantee the former, while no timeframe for the latter has been announced. Rogers also provides more details on the project, and on doubts about its opacity, escalating cost projections, and the nature and extent of China’s involvement:

On Wednesday morning, President Daniel Ortega sent the National Assembly a proposed law that grants a 50-year concession—with an additional 50-year option—to a recently formed Chinese company to build and manage a megaproject combo that includes an inter-oceanic canal, an oil pipeline, a railroad, two deepwater ports, two airports, and a series of free-trade zones. The bill, marked “urgent,” has not been subject to any public scrutiny or debate, despite receiving the imprimatur of Nicaragua’s main business chambers.

[…] “The scale of this project affects all Nicaraguans, the future of Lake Nicaragua, our environmental resources and the economy, but the Sandinistas have made it clear that the last thing they want is to be questioned or consulted on this project, which is totally lacking in transparency,” [opposition congressman Carlos] Langrand told The Nicaragua Dispatch. “We have many more questions than answers about this project.” [Source]

Retreating Arctic sea ice is opening up other possible routes between Pacific and Atlantic, the northeast and northwest passages over Eurasia and North America. The short shipping season and lingering need for hardened hulls, however, is likely to limit commercial traffic over the top of the world for the foreseeable future.