US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo ended a state visit to Sri Lanka as part of his Indo-Pacific tour on Wednesday, sharply criticizing China for “lawlessness at land and sea” in the region.
“The Chinese Communist party is a predator,” Pompeo said at a joint press conference with Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, before leaving the country for the Maldives.
“A strong, sovereign Sri Lanka is a powerful strategic partner for the United States on the world stage. There can be a big and free open Indo-Pacific,” Pompeo said.
“That is quite a contrast to what China seeks. We see this from bad deals, violations of sovereignty, lawlessness at land and sea,” Pompeo added.
The top US diplomat said he had a wide range of discussions with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, including on security cooperation. He added the US seeks to improve relations with “democratic Sri Lanka.”
President Rajapaksa said Sri Lanka’s foreign policy was based on neutrality.
Ahead of Pompeo’s visit, US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Dean Thompson had urged Sri Lanka “to make difficult but necessary decisions to secure its economic independence” instead of using “opaque practices.”
The Chinese embassy in Colombo said Thompson’s remarks were a blatant violation of diplomatic protocol.
Ahead of Pompeo’s visit, high-ranking Chinese Communist Party Politburo member Yang Jiechi met Rajapaksa and pledged more economic help to Sri Lanka.
President Rajapaksa’s brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, current prime minister and president between 2005 and 2015, was heavily dependent on Chinese loans and investments during his tenure.
Sri Lanka is Pompeo’s third stop on his Indo-Pacific tour, with previous visits in India and Indonesia.
On Wednesday, the Vietnamese government announced that Pompeo would also visit Vietnam on Thursday and Friday.
In a government statement, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc expressed his wish to foster the two countries’ partnership especially regarding the economy, trade and investment.
The Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) is currently investigating Vietnam for alleged undervaluation of its currency in a way that could harm US commerce. It is also investigating the legality of the South Asian country’s timber trade.
Phuc said in the statement that Vietnam’s currency interest rate policy is not designed to gain export advantages or promote domestic production.