COLOMBO: US secretary of state Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday the Chinese Communist Party was operating as a “predator” in Sri Lanka, as the top US diplomat kept up tough criticism of China on a tour of Asia.
Pompeo arrived in Sri Lanka from India as part of a four-leg tour aimed at bolstering allies against China’s increasing political and military inroads in the region in recent years.
“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,” Pompeo told a televised news conference in the capital, Colombo.
In contrast to India, which is locked in a military stand-off with China and was the first stop on Pompeo’s trip, Sri Lanka is a close ally of Beijing.
China has invested billions of dollars in Sri Lankan ports and highways as part of its Belt and Road Initiative of transport and energy links, a programme the United States believes is designed to trap smaller countries in debt.
Foreign minister Dinesh Gunawardena said Sri Lanka wanted peace and good relations with all.
“Sri Lanka is a neutral, non-aligned country, committed to peace,” Gunawardena told the news conference.
“We hope to continue with our relations with the United States and other countries.”
In Sri Lanka, the Maldives and then in Indonesia on Thursday, Pompeo plans to press each nation to push back against increasing Chinese assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific, which US officials complain is highlighted by development and infrastructure projects that benefit China more than the presumed recipients.
Ahead of Pompeo’s arrival in Colombo, the Chinese Embassy in Sri Lanka denounced his visit, accusing one of his top aides of making unacceptable threats against the country. In those comments, the top US diplomat for South Asia, Dean Thompson, warned Sri Lanka of the dangers of allowing China to get a foothold on the island.