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US Embassy in Nicaragua voices concerns over Chinese-led canal

Members of civil organisations protest against the construction of Nicaragua's planned $50 billion shipping canal.

[MANAGUA] The US Embassy in Nicaragua said on Tuesday it was concerned by a lack of information surrounding the planned US$50 billion, Chinese-led canal that would bisect the poor Central American nation.

Work began in late December on the 172-mile (278-km) waterway, which its Hong Kong-based developer HK Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Co Ltd (HKND Group) says will be operational by 2020, but so far it has been met with widespread skepticism.

HKND Group is controlled by a little-known Chinese mogul, Wang Jing, who said the Chinese government is not behind the project. But his reluctance to reveal his financiers has led many to speculate he enjoys Beijing's tacit backing.

China's involvement would be a direct challenge to the Panama Canal, which was controlled by the United States until 1999. The canal would also give China a major foothold in Central America, a region long dominated by the United States. The US embassy in Nicaragua declined comment when work began last month.

But in a statement released on Tuesday, the US mission in Managua said all relevant documents pertaining to the project should be made public, and that the voices of all stakeholders should be heard in a peaceful manner. "The embassy is worried by the lack of information and transparency that has existed, and continues to exist, over many of the important aspects of this project," it said. It urged disclosure of environment studies, tenders and other details of the project.

Just days after the ground-breaking, at least 21 people were injured in clashes between police and protesters opposed to the construction of the canal.