Sorry Mr Secretary @SecPompeo, we’re busy promoting #China-#SriLanka friendship and cooperation, not interested in your #AlienVsPredator game invitation. The US can play two roles at the same time as always.
NEW DELHI: Thus went the tweet by the Chinese embassy in Colombo, Sri Lanka on Tuesday afternoon as it mocked the visit of the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo to Sri Lanka along with a photograph of the 2004 science-fiction movie.
China clearly was bristling as the US had made known its intent in why Pompeo was undertaking a visit to the strategically located Indian Ocean island nation–conveying to Colombo that its needs to beware of Beijing’s designs on their nation.
But Pompeo neatly turned the tables on China, dubbing the Chinese Communist Party instead as “a predator” while describing the US as Sri Lanka’s “friend” and “partner”. He made these remarks while addressing a joint press conference with Sri Lankan foreign minister Dinesh Gunawardena in Colombo on Wednesday.
China-bashing continued in yet another Indian Ocean country too, the Maldives where Pompeo spent a few hours meeting president Ibu Solih and foreign affairs minister Abdulla Shahid.
Hitting out at China, Pompeo said conversations about security in island nations like the Maldives and Sri Lanka “ have taken on a new importance as the Chinese Communist Party continues its lawless and threatening behaviour”.
He also announced the decision to open a US embassy in the Maldives as reported by StratNews Global earlier. “Getting this facility open won’t happen overnight but it’s worth it,” Pompeo told the media.
He was blunt in explaining the reasons for the decision to have an outpost in the Maldives. “It’s the right thing to do. Your role here in the Indo-Pacific and in the international community is increasingly important.”
What he left unsaid was that a diplomatic presence would also help Washington keep a closer watch on Chinese activities in the archipelago where it’s made deep inroads in recent years.
Maldives foreign minister Abdulla Shahid later tweeted, “The announcement of the opening of the first-ever US Embassy in Maldives, today, is a significant milestone in our longstanding relationship.”
In Sri Lanka, with China on Pompeo’s radar he said “…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.”
He took further aim at Beijing noting, “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.”
Strategically located Sri Lanka, caught in the jostling for strategic influence between two major powers, reiterated its neutrality–something that president Gotabaya Rajapaksa has been saying since he came to power late last year.
He tweeted after his meeting with Pompeo,”#SriLanka will always maintain a neutral stand in foreign policy and will not get entangled in struggles between power blocs.”
His foreign minister Dinesh Gunawardena was more expansive during the joint media briefing saying, “As a sovereign, free, independent nation, Sri Lanka’s foreign policy will remain neutral, non-aligned, and friendly.”
Gunawardena also assured the US and perhaps the world at large thus, “ Conscious of the opportunities and responsibilities that come with our strategic location, we see the importance of maintaining the freedom of navigation in our seas and airspace, also protecting sea lines of communication and the undersea cables.”
From the Maldives, Pompeo has flown to Indonesia. Thereafter, he will be headed for Vietnam, a last minute addition to his Indo-Pacific itinerary. Expect some more fire-works from Pompeo on the China front there too,