U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo slammed China for operating as a regional “predator” during an official visit to the Indian Ocean island of Sri Lanka on Wednesday.
Speaking in Colombo at a joint press conference with Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, Pompeo said that, in contrast to China, the U.S. amicably supports Sri Lanka:
[A] strong, sovereign Sri Lanka is a powerful and strategic partner for the United States on the world stage. It can be a beacon for a free and open Indo-Pacific.
Look, that’s quite a contrast to what China seeks. We see from bad deals, violations of sovereignty and lawlessness on land and sea, that the Chinese Communist Party is a predator, and the United States comes in a different way. We come as a friend and as a partner.
The Chinese Embassy in Sri Lanka responded to Pompeo’s remarks on Beijing in a Twitter statement on Wednesday:
Sorry Mr. Secretary @SecPompeo , we're busy promoting #China–#SriLanka friendship and cooperation, not interested in your #AlienVsPredator game invitation. The US can play two roles at the same time as always. pic.twitter.com/9Od8xsUphb
— Chinese Embassy in Sri Lanka (@ChinaEmbSL) October 28, 2020
Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa met with Pompeo during his visit to Colombo on Wednesday. President Rajapaksa said he welcomed more U.S. investment in Sri Lanka during the meeting, according to an official press release from Rajapaksa’s office.
“Even as government critics flag the Rajapaksa administration’s growing reliance on China for economic help — a $500 million Chinese loan was sanctioned in March and Colombo is negotiating another $700 million loan — the Sri Lankan President told Mr. Pompeo that Colombo’s foreign policy was ‘based on neutrality’,” the Hindu noted, adding that “Sri Lanka … is due to repay $4.5 billion next year.”
Sri Lanka infamously handed over its strategic Port of Hambantota to China in 2017 in an effort to pay off its debt to the nation. Colombo is a member of Beijing’s infrastructure-building Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which sees China loan developing countries vast sums of money — that they often cannot afford to repay — to build or revamp various forms of infrastructure. After defaulting on BRI loans to Chinese firms, Sri Lanka formally surrendered Hambantota Port to Beijing on a 99-year lease; observers say the deal seriously threatens the island nation’s sovereignty.
The U.S. is Sri Lanka’s single largest export market and the country’s largest trading partner.
“In 2019, Sri Lanka exported more than $2.7 billion of goods to the United States, of which over $1.8 billion … were ready-made garments,” the U.S State Department reported on Wednesday.
At Wednesday’s press conference, Pompeo said the U.S. State Department has offered “substantial counter-terrorism assistance” to help Sri Lankans bring to justice those responsible for the jihadist bombings on Christian churches in Colombo in April 2019.
“These Easter Sunday attacks represent the kind of sectarianism that Sri Lankans are ready to leave behind forever,” Pompeo said.
Pompeo’s 12-hour visit to Colombo on Wednesday was the second stop of his four-nation regional tour. The top U.S. diplomat is scheduled to visit India, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, and Indonesia.