A Panama Canal worker docks the Chinese container ship Cosco. Photo: Arnulfo Franco/AP

Beijing's construction ambitions in Latin America, a region that American leaders have seen as off-limits to other powers since the 19th century, is stirring alarm in Washington, the AP reports from Panama City.

The big picture: China's focus in Central America includes Panama, where the canal linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans makes it one of the world's busiest trade arteries, and strategically important both to Washington and Beijing.

The other side: China has launched a charm offensive, wooing Panamanian politicians, professionals and journalists. China is the canal's second-biggest user after the U.S.

Why it matters: The U.S., Japan, Russia and India fret that Beijing's Belt and Road building initiative is yielding economic and strategic influence at their expense.

Go deeper: Competitors worry that China is using Belt and Road for political gain

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