The United States (U.S.) Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo yesterday arrived in Sri Lanka for a two-day visit during which he would hold talks with the top Lankan leadership, as U.S. seeks to balance China’s growing influence in the region and to advance the common goals for a free and open Indo-Pacific.
Pompeo, the highest-level US official to visit Sri Lanka during the tenure of President Donald Trump, would hold official discussions with the Lankan leadership covering several areas of the multifaceted engagement between the two countries.
“Secretary Pompeo will travel to Colombo to underscore the commitment of the United States to a partnership with a strong, sovereign Sri Lanka and to advance our common goals for a free and open Indo-Pacific region,” the U.S. State Department said in a statement last week.
The Chinese military has been flexing its muscles in the strategically vital Indo Pacific region and is also engaged in hotly contested territorial disputes in both the South China Sea (SCS) and the East China Sea (ECS).
Early this month, India, the US, Japan and Australia agreed to step up coordination in creating a free and open Indo-Pacific.
Pompeo’s visit to Lanka comes two weeks after a high-powered Chinese delegation led by ruling Communist Party Politburo member Yang Jiechi visited Colombo.
Just a day before Pompeo’s visit to Colombo, the Chinese Embassy here accused the US of interfering in the relations between China and Sri Lanka.
“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 Embassy said in a statement on Monday.
It stressed that China and Sri Lanka have enough wisdom to handle relations with each other and do not need a third party to dictate.
The statement hoped that the US will “correct the ugly practices of arbitrarily interfering in other countries’ domestic and foreign affairs.”
China is one of the biggest investors in various infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka. But there has been criticism, both locally and internationally, and growing concerns that China has lured Sri Lanka into a debt trap.
However, the U.S. is Sri Lanka’s single largest export market and Sri Lanka’s largest trading partner. In 2019, Sri Lanka exported more than $2.7 billion of goods to the U.S., of which over $1.8 billion of which were ready-made garments.