Mike Pompeo slammed, Mahinda Rajapaksa praised over China comments

[TamilNet, Tuesday, 11 February 2020, 16:59 GMT]
China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang was commending SL Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa for ‘positive’ remarks on China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) during his recent visit to India. Mr Shuang, who is also the deputy director of China’s Foreign Ministry Information Department, was praising Mr Rajapaksa, although the latter had prioritised India as a “relation” over China, which he described a “friend” during his recent trip to India. Mr Shuang, in his daily briefing online, was responding to questions from journalists on matters ranging from the epidemic caused by novel coronavirus pneumonia in Wuhan to Indo-Pacific geopolitics. China was firmly opposed to US State Secretary Mike Pompeo's recent speech, which “fraught with Cold-War mentality and political prejudice,” the Chinese spokesman said.

US State Secretary Mike Pompeo was accusing China as exploiting the free and open political systems of the US to exert influence and seek infiltration at federal, state and local levels. Mr Pompeo was accusing China in an address to the National Governors Association in Washington on Saturday. He was urging the US governors “to adopt a cautious mindset" when doing business with China.

“In the District of Columbia, there have been concerns raised that the new Metro cars manufactured by China could be vulnerable to cyber threats,” Mr Pompeo said. Recently, the former CIA director has been touring several countries, including the UK, warning the countries against doing business with China's largest telecom equipment maker.

In India, Padma Rao Sundarji of the Print, an online policy paper, posed a tricky question to the visiting SL Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. The interview was published on Sunday.

“China is your largest investor. Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi says China is Sri Lanka’s strategic partner. Your brother, too, notes the strategic nature of your port of Hambantota, which was built by the Chinese and on which they have a 99-year-lease and massive equity. Please define this ‘strategic’ relationship” was the question.

Mr Rajapaksa responded: “China helped us for the sake of development, that is all. Our war had shattered our country, we needed help to develop; they were ready, so why not? We took their money and developed that area. Hambantota is a valuable strategic asset because of its location, right in the middle of the Indian Ocean. It is sensitive geographical space. Unfortunately, the previous government literally gave it to China by swapping debt for equity and signing that lease. We would not have done the same and are trying to find a way out along with the Chinese now.”

Then, in response to another question, Rajapksa said: “I always say India is a relation. Others are friends.”

Also, in an interview with the Hindu on Saturday, Mr Rajapaksa said: “We are friendly with China too. But the Indian relationship is much stronger and very important for us.”

Rajapaksa went on record stating that he didn't take Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi's recent comment in the island too seriously. The Chinese FM had said that China would ensure that there was no outside interference in the island.

“[N]o one has yet tried to interfere in our matters… other than during the last elections [2015],” Mr Rajapaksa said.

In his interview to the Print, Rajapaksa also revealed his government was not going to implement the 13th Amendment as expected by the TNA. However, there would be some alterations to the provincial system, he said.

China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), also known as One Belt and One Road (OBOR), is a grand strategy launched by Chinese President Xi Jinping, who came to power in 2013.

The top-down strategy of China seeks to link Europe, the Gulf region, Africa, Central Asia, and Southeast Asia through a network of land and sea routes with China.

Excerpts from the question and answer session of the Chinese FM Spokesperson follow:

Q: Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa is visiting India. In an interview on February 9, when asked about the "debt traps" China's Belt and Road Initiative has laid out for other countries, he said that Sri Lanka has received a lot of benefits from being part of the BRI. Sri Lanka's external debt towards China is only 12% of its overall external debt, and they have not defaulted. They used the money to build infrastructure. What is your comment?

A: We commend these comments made by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. China and Sri Lanka share a strategic cooperative partnership based on sincere mutual assistance and ever-lasting friendship. Based on Sri Lanka's development needs, China offered loans to support its infrastructure building and other major domestic projects concerning people's livelihood. These projects and loans have boosted Sri Lanka's economic growth, created a large amount of local jobs and contributed to the country's sustainable development. Those outcomes have been commended by the government and people of Sri Lanka. China stands ready to strengthen BRI cooperation with Sri Lanka to deliver more benefits to the two peoples.

Q: In a speech to the National Governors Association, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said competition with China is happening at the federal level, the state level and the local level, and China is exploiting the free and open political systems of the US to exert influence and seek infiltration at all these levels. He urged governors of US states and territories to take such competition seriously and adopt a cautious mindset when engaging in cooperation with China. What is your comment?

A: Mr. Pompeo's remarks reveal a shocking disregard for the actual course of China-US relations. We are firmly opposed to this speech fraught with Cold-War mentality and political prejudice.

China follows the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics with the leadership of the CPC as its defining feature. This path is a historical choice made by the Chinese people. We will stay true to it and forge ahead for greater progress. Anyone seeking to stand in our way forward should think twice.

Since the very beginning when the PRC and the US started engaging with each other, the difference in our political systems has been clearly recognized by both. That is also why the three China-US joint communiques emphasized mutual respect, non-interference in each other's internal affairs and equality. It seems Mr. Pompeo is not familiar with these documents, or perhaps he just doesn't want to bother.

Over the four decades of diplomatic relations, China and the US have generally moved forward our bilateral ties despite some trials and turbulence, which has brought tangible benefits to the two peoples and made important contributions to peace, stability and prosperity in the Asia Pacific and the world beyond. This is a fact that is not to be disputed, nor erased by somebody simply saying a few words.

Sub-national cooperation and people-to-people exchanges constitute an important part of China-US relations. It meets the shared wish and serves the common interests of the two sides to strengthen sub-national and people-to-people interactions. Thus, it is perplexing that the US Secretary of State should obstruct such exchanges on purpose and go against the wish of the people, instead of playing a facilitating role.

China's diplomatic missions and civil groups in the US have been following international law and bilateral agreements. Their interactions with the US governments at all levels are to promote mutual understanding, exchanges and cooperation, thus legitimate, lawful, open and aboveboard, and beyond reproach.

Mr. Pompeo should step out of his Cold War mindset and ideological prejudices, show his respect to the history and basic facts concerning China-US relations, stop smearing China's political system, and stop undermining bilateral exchanges and cooperation.


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External Links:
ChinaDaily: Pompeo's China-bashing McCarthyism: China Daily editorial
The Print: India is a relation. China just helped us develop after the war: PM Rajapaksa
Foreign Ministry of China: Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang's Daily Briefing
US State Department: Mike Pompeo: U.S. States and the China Competition
The Hindu: If India agrees to postpone debt by three years, we can convince others too, says Mahinda Rajapaksa


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