By Chandani Kirinde
Visiting US Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo sought to draw a contrast between what China seeks in Sri Lanka as opposed to the manner in which the US operates and controversially labelled the Chinese Communist Party a “predator”.
At a joint press event Pompeo addressed with Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena at the end of his brief visit to the country, the senior US official also said a strong, sovereign Sri Lanka is a powerful and strategic partner for the US on the world stage and it can be a beacon for a free and open Indo-Pacific.
“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,” Pompeo said.
The State Secretary also took a dig at China in reference to the discussions he held with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on cooperation in defeating COVID-19 calling it the pandemic that came from Wuhan, China.
Pompeo held talks with the President and the Foreign Minister during his stopover in Colombo on the second leg of a five-day trip to Asia which first took him to India.
In both engagements, Pompeo reiterated that the US seeks to strengthen its partnership with democratic, peaceful, prosperous, and fully sovereign Sri Lanka.
“Our new embassy, for instance, is nearing completion. It’s a sign of our commitment to the country and to the people of Sri Lanka,” he said.
Pompeo also referred to the assistance the US has extended during the COVID-19 pandemic. “The United States has donated now just over $ 6 million in COVID assistance to Sri Lanka, and early in the pandemic, Sri Lankan factories and garment manufacturers quickly filled hundreds – hundreds of orders for high-quality PPE, and we are grateful for this output which saved American lives.”
He said that President Trump is working hard with our private sector to develop vaccines and therapeutics to beat this virus and benefit our peoples and indeed the peoples of the entire world. “We’ll need the power of private industry to regain our economic footing now and in the future, and we look forward to working with the people of Sri Lanka on that matter.”
Pompeo revealed that he had talked with the President about the economic relationship.
“Brands like Coke and Oracle and IBM are here creating high-quality jobs. These American companies are the most reliable partners on the planet. They’re accountable to the law, they’re transparent, they’re assets to the communities in which they operate,” he said.
Pompeo emphasised that good governance, transparency in policy consistency will attract even more American investment. “Those principles are deeply consistent with Sri Lanka’s history, its heritage as the oldest democracy in Asia.”
Pompeo who visited the St. Anthony’s Shrine in Kochchikade before his departure from Colombo aid it is important for him to take a moment to go and visit the shrine, one of the five sites that was attacked by ISIS on Easter Sunday of 2019 in order to pay respects to the hundreds of victims of evil terrorists, including five Americans.
“I’m proud that the State Department has offered substantial counterterrorism assistance to help Sri Lankans bring killers of Americans and their own people to justice. These Easter Sunday attacks represent the kind of sectarianism that Sri Lankans are ready to leave behind forever. Sri Lankans of all backgrounds – Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and Muslims alike – want a peaceful nation where their human rights are respected,” he said.
Pompeo referred to the victory speech made last year by President Rajapaksa where he stated that he is the president of all citizens, not of only those who voted for him and said the US is counting on those words to hold true.
“We fully expect that Sri Lanka will fulfil its pledges to take meaningful, concrete steps to promote accountability, justice, and reconciliation,” he said.
In response to a question raised about the US travel ban on Army Commander Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva, Pompeo said that it is a legal process and the United States will continue to review it.
“We’ll always continue to review it. We want to make sure we get it both technically, factually, and legally right. We’ll continue to do that,” he said.
Pompeo left for the Maldives from Colombo and will also visit Indonesia during his tour of Asia.