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Column 030507 Conroy

Monday, March 5, 2007


Chinese Ownership of Mexican Port Causing Worry


By Nancy Conroy


Chinese control of worldwide port facilities is an issue that should be reexamined in light of recent concerns about rising Chinese influence around the globe.  The Chinese company Hutchison Whampoa, owned by Chinese billionaire Li Ka Shing, controls 35 major ports in the world, including the four most important ports in Mexico. 


Hutchison is about to build a brand new port at Punta Colonet, a Baja California cove located just two hours south of the US border.  In the event of a conflict with China, a Chinese built and controlled port so close to the US could potentially function as a staging area for hostile activities.  Also, the US should keep an eye on Huchison’s remarkably friendly relationship with the Mexican government.


Hutchison Ports Holding, part of the Hutchison Whampoa group, runs 35 ports including the Bahamas, Buenos Aires, and two in the Panama Canal. And again, it is owned by Li Ka Shing, China’s most influential billionaire who is known as “The Superman of the Orient.” In 2003 Forbes magazine ranked him fifth among the world's ten “most powerful” billionaires, behind Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Silvio Berlusconi and Rupert Murdoch.


A 1998 declassified Army intelligence report stated "Li Ka-shing, the owner of Hutchison Whampoa [Limited] … is directly connected to Beijing and is willing to use his business influence to further the aims of the Chinese government." 


During the public debate over the Panama Canal turnover in 1999, several members of Congress expressed concern about Hutchison’s control of ports on both sides of the Canal.  The critics argued that Hutchison’s involvement essentially meant that control of the strategic waterway was being handed over to the communist Chinese government.


Admiral Thomas Moorer told The New American magazine that "The Chinese penetration of Panama has been effected primarily through an entity known as the Panama Ports Company, a front corporation for Hutchison-Whampoa Limited, a Communist Chinese-controlled company owned by Hong Kong billionaire Dr. Li Ka-shing. Dr. Li’s business empire has long been intertwined with enterprises that front for the Communist military and intelligence arms of the People’s Republic of China. Ten percent of his Panama Ports Company is owned by China Resources, the commercial arm of China’s Ministry of Trade and Economic Cooperation.” 


If Hutchison Whampoa is connected to the Chinese government, the US should take notice of this company’s plans to build a new port in Baja California.  The new port would be located two hours south of the US border, at a remote location called Punta Colonet.


The area is desolate, totally empty, far from populated areas, and prying eyes could easily be kept out.  All infrastructure, railways, roads and port facilities would need to be constructed from the ground up.  During construction, it would be reasonable to cordon off the construction area and keep people out for security reasons.


The Chinese could quietly erect “special” installations disguised as something else, unnoticed amongst the massive construction project.  Then Chinese ships could unload cargo items directly into the dual-purpose installations, or send presents to the US via the connected railway.  Viola! A Chinese military base 200 miles from the United States.


The ability to pull off such a maneuver would require enormous political clout in Mexico, which Hutchison already has.  Tijuana politician Jaime Martinez Veloz has alleged that Hutchison has a track record of power mongering and insider maneuvering in Mexico.


Martinez said that Hutchison obtained the concession to operate the Lazaro Cardenas port using a method that Martinez described as “a vile swamp of transnational, governmental and business corruption.”  He added, “the favoritism and partiality of the Mexican port authorities towards the oriental consortium Hutchison has ‘inexplicable’ reasons, but one day they will be known.”


Martinez also mentioned that Hutchison’s owner, Li Ka Shing, might have a track record of making enormous donations to political parties in various countries.


Former Baja California governor Ernesto Ruffo is now functioning as Li Ka Shing’s Mexican front man, promoting the port in conjunction with rich local partners.  The permits for the project are not in place, and there are pending lawsuits, but the Chinese victory already looks like a done deal.


Anyone concerned about a possible conflict with China should take a close look at the plans for the new Punta Colonet port, since the project could provide a bit more than what was bargained for.



Nancy Conroy, a MexiData.info guest columnist, is the Publisher of northern Baja California’s biweekly Gringo Gazette North.  She can be reached via e-mail at nancy@gringogazettenorth.com.




Colonet note: A series of Mexico-centric draft notes on the Colonet, Baja California port project and politics, gathered from public and private sector sources for MexIntel.info by Barnard Thompson over the past year, is now available for US$25.00.


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