US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (right) meets Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa Wednesday | Photo: Twitter | @SecPompeo
New Delhi: India is hopeful that US Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo’s visit to Sri Lanka will help in reducing the influence of China in that country, which could, in turn, help kickstart projects in collaboration with the Quad nations that would boost the Indo-Pacific strategy.
Pompeo visited Sri Lanka Wednesday, a day after completing the ‘2+2’ ministerial dialogue between India and the US. He met Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena.
“Productive talk with Sri Lankan President @GotabayaR about post-pandemic economic recovery and development and the importance of our partnership to bolster sustainable and transparent trade and investment that benefits the people of Sri Lanka,” Pompeo tweeted.
According to a top Indian diplomatic source, Pompeo’s visit to the island nation is “obviously going to help in reducing China’s influence in the region”, at a time when Beijing is trying to bring South Asian countries into its tight grip, making it difficult for New Delhi to do business in or boost strategic ties with them.
“All these countries which Pompeo is visiting — Sri Lanka, Maldives and Indonesia — are key for the success of Indo-Pacific. India is seeking to establish robust and resilient supply chains with them,” a source said.
Pompeo keeps up tirade against CCP
In Sri Lanka, Pompeo once again slammed the Communist Party of China (commonly known as Chinese Communist Party or CCP), calling it a “predator”, and said the US is Sri Lanka’s “friend” and “partner”.
“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,” Pompeo said at a joint press conference with his counterpart Gunawardena.
“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 top member of the Donald Trump cabinet said.
“We want the people of Sri Lanka to have sovereignty and independence. We want them to be successful. We want sustainable development for them,” he insisted.
The United States has donated two Coast Guard cutters to the Sri Lankan Navy for patrolling.
The previous day, in India, Pompeo had said: “I’m traveling to Sri Lanka, I’m traveling to the Maldives, on to Indonesia, understanding that the interests that India has in those places… Based on our partnership and our friendship and the warm commitment between our two leaders, we can do good things for the entire region, and do them together, and cover down on places each of us could not do individually.”
India is concerned that despite Sri Lanka’s assurance, the $500 million project to build a container terminal in the strategic Colombo Port is stuck, at a time when the Chinese are make rapid inroads in the country, and are already running the crucial Hambantota Port.
Sri Lanka had signed an MoU with India and Japan to build the container terminal in the Colombo Port, which is also part of China’s Belt and Road project. However, owing to the elections in that country, the Rajapaksa government halted the project.
US to open embassy in Male
Later in the day, Pompeo met Maldives President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, and made a “historic announcement” to open a US Embassy in capital Male.
“We deeply value our friendship with the Maldivian people and look forward to taking our partnership to the next level,” he later tweeted.
“I am pleased to announce our plan to open an Embassy in Male. Since the establishment of our diplomatic ties in 1966, we’ve seen Maldives make great progress in supporting democratic institutions, and we are proud to partner with them on regional security issues,” Pompeo added.
So far, the US does not have a consulate or embassy in the Maldives, but operates an American Center in Malé. The US Ambassador and embassy staff in Sri Lanka are accredited for the Maldives.
India has been especially close to the present Maldivian dispensation due to its ‘India First’ policy, even as the country’s ties with China have been growing.
The Maldives is also a key country for India in terms of maritime security. Its financial assistance to the island nation, including loans and grants for projects, has exceeded $2 billion.
On his part, President Solih tweeted: “Had very engaging discussions with @SecPompeo on furthering Maldives-US cooperation from trade and investment to maritime security to countering terrorism and the climate emergency. Look forward to furthering Maldives-US relations in the coming months and years.”
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