Chinese government firms have expressed interest in developing land around the Panama Canal, furthering the government’s desire to acquire control of strategic waterways around the world.

The Panama Canal Authority, which has managed the canal since the United States ceded ownership to the Panamanian government in 1999, will officially open approximately 1,200 hectares of land around the waterway to development into a logistics park by the end of this year, according to Chief Executive Jorge Quijano.

“We have been talking to people here in China,” he said ahead of a meeting with the canal’s advisory board in Shanghai.

The Panama Canal Authority is expected to parcel out the land and grant concession agreements of up to 40 years.

In addition, the operating agreement for a roll-on, roll-off terminal near the canal is expected to be put out for bid in the middle of 2017; the authority has already received indications of interest from China, Japan, Norway and South Korea.

“There are opportunities there, definitely for some of these Chinese companies to participate as a concessionaire, not just as a contractor to build something, but they can actually bid for the concession and then build,” Quijano added.

A subsidiary of the China Communications Construction Corporation, China Harbor Engineering, has expressed interest in the project, as has the China Railway Group. The Communist Chinese government is the dominant shareholder of all three companies.

China Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO) has in the past approached the Panama Canal Authority about the land, Quijano said.

Under Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative, state-owned corporations have expanded their presence in ports located along strategic waterways in an effort to control global trade routes.

Firms owned by the Chinese government have already acquired majority control over key ports in Sri Lanka and Greece, as well as minority control over ports in Europe, Africa and Asia.

To maintain control over its overseas holdings, including a newly constructed military base along the Horn of Africa in Djibouti, China recently announced plans to massively expand the country’s Marine Corps.

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