Chinese state media sharply criticised US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday after he made comments in Latin America warning about the hidden risks of seeking Chinese investment amid a growing battle for influence in the region.
Pompeo was on a Latin America tour at the end of last week, meeting heads of state in Panama and Mexico. Pompeo told reporters, “When China comes calling it’s not always to the good of your citizens.”
“When they show up with deals that seem to be too good to be true it’s often the case that they, in fact, are,” he said on Thursday in Mexico City, according to comments posted on the US Department of State’s website.
In an editorial on Monday, the state-run China Daily newspaper said Pompeo’s comments were “ignorant and malicious” and criticism that its ambitions Belt and Road infrastructure initiative was creating debt traps in other countries was false.
President Xi Jinping has been pushing the plan to expand trade corridors along a modern-day Silk Road linking Asia, Europe and Africa, pumping credit into building roads, railways and ports in a trillion-dollar infrastructure initiative.
“The ‘creditor imperialism’ fallacy is, in essence, a deliberate attempt by India and Western countries to denigrate the Belt and Road Initiative, which exhibits their envy of the initial fruits the initiative has produced,” the editorial said.
China is eager to bring Latin American countries on board as well, though the initiative has started to face rising scepticism as some countries, such as Sri Lanka, have become saddled with debt that they are struggling to repay.
Pompeo said the United States welcomed competition from China, but criticised a lack of transparency at its state-owned enterprises and what he called “predatory economic activity”.
In comments in Panama, he said countries should have their “eyes wide open” when it came to Chinese investment.
“It’s simply the case that in parts of the world China has invested in ways that have left countries worse off, and that should never be the case,” he said.
China’s state-owned Global Times said in an editorial on Monday that Pompeo’s comments were “disrespectful”, adding the US was trying to “drive a wedge” into growing Sino-Latin American relations.
China criticised Pompeo’s predecessor, Rex Tillerson, in February after he said Latin America “does not need new imperial powers”, and that China was “using economic statecraft to pull the region into its orbit”.
While the United States has traditionally had strong political influence in the region, China has become a major trading partner for many Latin American countries, including Argentina, Chile and Brazil.
“Most countries are disappointed with the US and want to shed themselves of US dependence,” the Global Times said.
“Almost 200 years after the Monroe Doctrine speech in 1823, does the US still view itself as the instructor of Latin American countries?”