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U.S. urges Sri Lanka to make 'difficult' choices over China ties

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States will urge Sri Lanka to make “difficult but necessary choices” on its economic relations when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visits there next week, a senior U.S. official said on Thursday, apparently refering to China’s deepening influence over Colombo.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at a news conference at the State Department in Washington, DC, U.S. October 21, 2020. Nicholas Kamm/Pool via REUTERS

Pompeo will also visit India, Maldives and Indonesia on an Asian tour whose main goal is expected to be garnering support in countering China.

His trip comes a week before the Nov. 3 U.S. election in which President Donald Trump has made being tough on China a key part of his campaign to secure a second term.

Pompeo and other U.S. officials have kept up the harsh rhetoric on China, dismissing Beijing’s investments across the globe as “debt diplomacy” and alleging that it leaves poorer nations saddled with too much debt.

Briefing reporters, U.S. officials warned the Sri Lankan government about who they team up with for their economic partnerships, without explicitly naming China.

“We encourage Sri Lanka to review the options we offer for transparent and sustainable economic development in contrast to discriminatory and opaque practises,” said Dean Thompson, the senior State Department official for South and Central Asian affairs.

“We urge Sri Lanka to make difficult but necessary decisions to secure its economic independence for long-term prosperity,” Thompson said.

China’s foreign ministry spokesman dismisssed the comments as showing a “Cold War mentality.”.

Attempts to use coercion to obstruct normal cooperation between countries will not succeed, ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a news briefing in Beijing on Friday.

China has been making inroads into South Asia with its Belt and Road Initiative, aimed at financing critical infrastructure in dozens of countries across the world.

In 2017, Sri Lanka signed over control of a Chinese-financed port and land around it to Beijing after incurring heavy losses, to the alarm of the United States and regional power India.

Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and David Brunnstrom; Additional reporting by Gabriel Crossley in Beijing; Editing by Angus MacSwan

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