Panama schools to teach Chinese
Panama is moving to make the teaching of Mandarin compulsory in all schools, in recognition of China's growing importance in the world economy.
The Panamanian National Assembly has given conditional approval to the bill in the first of three debates.
The bill's supporters say boosting the number of Chinese speakers will help increase Panama's competitiveness.
China is the biggest single user of the Panama Canal that connects the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.
The bill's supporters recognise that English is the international language of business but say that with China's increasing economic influence, Mandarin is set to be an indispensable language.
Panama has important commercial links with China, with bilateral trade running at $1bn (£500m).
The Central American nation also has diplomatic links with Taiwan, one of the few countries to do so.
The proposed legislation sets out a timeframe of 10 years for Mandarin to be taught in all schools.
The legislation proposes allowing the immigration of specialist Chinese teachers to help train local teachers.