By Aanya Wipulasena
Colombo, Oct 28 (efe-epa).- United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday said China’s ruling communist party was a “predator” in Sri Lanka, with Colombo trying to strike a balance between the two countries in their battler for power in the region.
Pompeo, who arrived in the Indian Ocean island nation on Tuesday evening from India on the second leg of his four-nation Asia trip, said the US sought to strengthen its partnership with “a democratic, peaceful, prosperous and fully sovereign Sri Lanka.”
After meeting President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, Pompeo said “a strong, sovereign Sri Lanka is a powerful strategic partner for the United States on the world stage” that could be a beacon for a free Indo-Pacific.
“That is quite a contrast 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,” Pompeo said.
The top US diplomat is traveling to Asia, days before the American presidential election in which President Donald Trump is seeking a second term in office.
The Trump administration is trying to win allies in Asia and the Indo-Pacific to counter the growing political, economic, and military influence of China in the region.
Pompeo said the US and Sri Lanka shared a vision for democracy and “freedom to hold democratic elections.”
“Let us all stand together shoulder-to-shoulder and let us do even more together on the strength of our partnership armed by democratic values.”
Gunawardena said his country was a non-aligned nation that would welcome many US dignitaries visiting Sri Lanka in the future.
“Sri Lanka is a neutral, non-aligned country committed to peace and on that principles, we hope to continue with our relations with the US and other countries,” he said.
China has given billions of dollars in loans to Sri Lanka over the last decade for infrastructure projects that include a seaport, airport, port-city, highways, and power stations as Beijing considers Colombo a critical link in its ambitious belt and road initiative.
But some critics say the Chinese-funded projects are financially non-viable and that Colombo was landing itself into a deep Chinese debt trap.
Ahead of Pompeo’s trip, a war of words played out loud between the US and China over Beijing’s financial assistance to the crisis-ridden island nation.
China strongly objected to what it called the US coercing and bullying of Sri Lanka.
Earlier, Dean Thompson, a senior State Department official, had said the island nation must make “difficult but necessary choices” on its foreign policy, in a veiled reference to its relations with Beijing.
“We are firmly opposed to the United States taking the opportunity of the State Secretary’s visit to sow and interfere in China-Sri Lanka relations, and to coerce and bully Sri Lanka,” the Chinese embassy in Colombo said in a statement.
Before embarking on his third-leg of the Asia tour, Pompeo said he would visit St. Anthony’s Church in north Colombo. The Church was one of the targets of the deadly Easter Sunday bombings last year in which more than 250 people, including foreigners, died.
“Five Americans were killed. The US has offered substantial counterterrorism assistance to help bring the killers of Americans and their own people to justice,” Pompeo said.
Soon after his departure, the authorities imposed curfew in the Western Province that also houses the capital Colombo to arrest the surge of Covid-19 cases after several new clusters were detected in the region.