Secretary of State Mike Pompeo continued his anti-China crusade in South Asia on Wednesday in visits to Sri Lanka and the Maldives. Pompeo slammed China for what he called “lawless and threatening” behavior in the region.
Pompeo announced that the US will soon open an embassy in the Maldives for the first time. The move is seen as an effort to counter Beijing’s influence in the small island nation.
China has invested billions of dollars into the Maldives and Sri Lanka as part of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative. In Sri Lanka, Pompeo criticized China’s business practices and said the US is a better partner.
“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 at a news conference in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital.
Sri Lankan President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa defended his country’s business dealings with China. His office said in a statement that the country is not caught in a “debt trap” with Beijing.
Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena made it clear the country has no interest in getting involved in a spat between the US and China. “Sri Lanka is a neutral, non-aligned country committed to peace,” he said. “We hope to continue in our relations with the United States and with other parties.”
Ahead of Pompeo’s visit, China warned the US against bullying Sri Lanka over its relationship with Beijing.
Pompeo visited the two island nations as part of a five-day tour of the region. The next stop is Indonesia, another country wary about getting in the middle of Washington and Beijing.