A new inland waterway through Nicaragua could provide competition for the Panama Canal

Nicaragua’s planned rival to the Panama Canal moved one step closer to completion earlier this month, when work began on the project.

With predominantly Chinese funding, the $50bn (£32bn) project broke ground on Monday 22 December and has a target completion date of 2020, Reuters reports.

The first stage is to build a port on the country’s Pacific coast, which would welcome ships into the 172-mile canal. By contrast, the Panama Canal is only 48 miles in length.

Nicaragua is the poorest country in mainland Latin America, but the local government claims this enormous construction project will raise annual economic growth to more than 10%.

However, the prospect of a Panama Canal rival has been met with much scepticism, partly due to a changing route and the delay of feasibility reports, which are now scheduled to be released in April 2015.

Construction has been largely funded by HKND Group, which is controlled by Wang Jing (pictured above), a telecoms mogul with close links to the Chinese political elite.