Taiwanese President-elect Tsai Ing-wen and Chinese President Xi Jinping have both been invited to the inauguration ceremony of the newly expanded Panama Canal on June 26.
Tsai Ing-wen's invitation from its Panamanian diplomatic ally is drawing local media attention as Chinese leader Xi Jinping has also been invited to the same event.
Aside from focusing on the possibility of a "Tsai-Xi" meeting on the sidelines, Panama's intentions need to be scrutinized with regard to a possible resumption of a diplomatic recognition tug-of-war across the Taiwan Strait.
A report in Reuters say that China reacted frostily after Taiwan ally Panama said it had invited leaders from both China and self-ruled Taiwan to attend the inauguration, in what would be an awkward diplomatic encounter.
Panama is one of just 22 allies which maintain formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan. China claims Taiwan as a wayward province and says it has no right to have diplomatic relations with anyone.
Both China and Taiwan were invited because "this is the inauguration of the expanded canal. China, as an important user, needs to attend", Panama's foreign ministry said.
However, Tsai Ing-wen promised Friday to give "priority consideration" to an invitation from Panama for her to attend the inauguration ceremony.
Tsai made the pledge during a meeting with Panama's ambassador to the Republic of China (Taiwan), Alfredo Martiz, who visited her at Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) headquarters to deliver the invitation to her in person, the DPP said in a statement.
In response to media queries about Panama’s invitation for Xi to attend the ceremony — with some politicians and political commentators speculating that Panama might be expressing a desire to establish formal diplomatic ties with China through the invitation — Panamian Ambassador Alfredo Martiz said that diplomatic ties between Taipei and Panama City remain firm.
“The Panama Canal is open to the international world; this is the answer to this question, but Taiwan is our ally and we have a relationship with them,” Martiz said. “That’s why we are here to show the people in Taiwan the relationship between Taiwan and Panama is [a] very good one.”
The strategic waterway is one of the world's busiest maritime routes and China is its second-biggest user.