US Southern Commander Adm. Kurt Tidd gestures during the inauguration of the 2016 Conference of Central American Security in San Jose, Costa Rica. Photo: AFP/Ezequiel Becerra

Adm. Kurt Tidd, a senior US military official for Central and South America, warned about growing “economic competition” from China in the Western Hemisphere at a Monday press briefing in Washington.

Tidd noted how Chinese businesses are mulling land development deals near the Panama Canal and offering to improve local information technology infrastructure. He called such non-military moves by China a demonstration of how other nations, including Russia and Iran, are searching for openings and influence in countries historically and physically close to the United States.

Their goal, “is to undermine our partnerships,” Tidd said at a Pentagon press briefing.

Tidd asserted that an example of Beijing’s influence occurred last summer when Panama broke off diplomatic relations with Taiwan under alleged pressure from China and formally established ties with Beijing. Since then, the admiral noted that Chinese interests have teamed up with a Belgian firm to build a port and terminal for cruise ships near the entrance to the Panama Canal.

“The transparency of financial dealings [with the Chinese] are not always evident,” and this might prod some nations to avoid complex transactions with Beijing, Tidd said.

USNI News said Tidd was asked at the briefing whether he thought Beijing might consider building a military base somewhere in the Western Hemisphere as it’s already done in the Horn of Africa.

“It’s something always worth paying attention to,” Tidd said. “We can’t take [countries in Southern Command area of responsibility] for granted,” he was quoted as saying.

Tidd, at the same time, noted the strong military-to-military relationships the US enjoys with Colombia, Brazil, Chile and Argentina.

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