The Panama Canal’s monopoly on interoceanic shipping between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans may soon be coming to an end. Nicaragua is currently working with a developer to construct a canal that would rival the Panamanian shipping throughway.
Nicaragua’s Interoceanic Grand Canal is planned to be between 210 km to 285 km long—up to three times the length of the Panama Canal—with a depth of 27.6 meters and a width of 520 meters. The plans include two ports, a railway, an oil pipeline, and two airports (one international, one domestic). The total cost estimate for the project is between US$40 billion and US$50 billion.
The project is spearheaded by Chinese billionaire Wang Jing, 41, Chairman and CEO of the privately-held international development firm HKND Group headquartered in Hong Kong. Wang, who made his fortune in gold and iron ore mining across Southeast Asia, also controls a 37% stake in Xinwei Telecom Technology Co. In 2012 Xinwei signed a contract with Nicaragua reportedly worth up to US$300 million.
Nicaragua granted Wang a 50 year concession in 2013, and he is said to have already spent US$100 million in preparation work on the canal project. Wang intends on work to begin in December 2014, though Nicaragua’s canal chief believes it to begin in 2015, and for the canal to be complete by 2019.
The project has been met with some criticism, including environmental concerns regarding the protection of Lake Nicaragua. Wang claims to take potential environmental impacts and protections seriously.
“Neither I nor the investor group wants our names dragged through the mud of history,” he says. “I take all responsibility for any environmental damage. I have told my employees that if we make a mistake on this front, we will be dishonored in the history textbooks of Nicaragua.”
Furthermore, Wang himself is the center of some scrutiny, causing him to quell rumors that he may be tied to the Chinese government, military, or Communist Party. “I am a normal Chinese citizen,” says Wang. “I couldn’t be more normal.”