China state media slams Pompeo's Latam warning as 'ignorant and malicious'

China slams Pompeo’s ‘malicious’ Latam comments amid influence battle

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Chinese state media sharply criticized U.S. 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 influence battle in the region.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to the press before boarding his plane at Mexico City International Airport in Mexico City, Mexico, October 19, 2018. Brendan Smialowski/Pool/via REUTERS

Pompeo was on a Latin America tour at the end of last week, meeting with the heads of state in Panama and Mexico. Pompeo told reporters during the trip that “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 U.S. State Department’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.

China has been gaining ground in resource-rich Latin America, raising concerns in Washington that the world’s second largest economy is grabbing influence in the region amid a tense trade war between the two countries.

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 country is keen 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 had struggled to repay.

Pompeo said the United States welcomed competition from China, but criticized a lack of transparency at its state-owned enterprises and what he called “predatory economic activity”.

In comments made in Panama he said that 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.

The state-owned Global Times said in a separate editorial on Monday that Pompeo’s comments were “disrespectful”, adding that the United States was trying to “drive a wedge” between growing Sino-Latin American relations.

China criticized 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”.

In April China’s ambassador to Peru said that it would be disrespectful for the United States to drag Latin America into its trade dispute with Beijing.

While the United States has traditionally had strong political clout in the region , China has become a major trade partner for many Latin American countries, including Argentina, Chile and Brazil.

“Most countries are disappointed with the U.S. and want to shed themselves of U.S. dependence,” the Global Times said. “Latin American countries know how to weigh their interests.”

Reporting by Adam Jourdan; Editing by Michael Perry

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