China says US criticism of its role in Latin America is 'slanderous'

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (pictured) accused China of aiding Venezuela's economic collapse by bankrolling President Nicolas Maduro as the country spirals into political crisis. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (REUTERS) - China has slammed US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's criticism of Beijing's policies in South America as "slanderous", saying countries there would soon see who their "true friend" was.

Mr Pompeo had last Friday accused China of aiding Venezuela's economic collapse by bankrolling President Nicolas Maduro as the country spirals into a deepening political crisis. Mr Pompeo was on a three-day trip to Chile, Paraguay and Peru.

The United States is pressing Maduro to step down and urging more countries to join a coalition supporting opposition leader Juan Guaido. South America has seen a political shift in recent years towards the right, and most nations have backed Guaido.

Pompeo labelled China hypocritical for calling for non-intervention in Venezuela when he said China's own "financial interventions have helped destroy the country".

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a briefing in Beijing that such comments were "lies".

"US Secretary of State Pompeo, on China-Latin America relations, is wantonly slanderous, deliberately instigating, irresponsible, and unreasonable. We strongly oppose this," Lu said.

"For a long time, the United States has regarded Latin America as its own backyard, and pressured, threatened and even toppled other countries' political regimes," he said, adding that countries in the region would soon understand who was their "true friend".

The influence of the United States in Latin America has been increasingly challenged by China, whose booming economy over the past two decades has driven up demand for South America's raw materials.

China is already the top trade partner for Brazil, Latin America's largest economy and the world's top soybean exporter.

The pivot by it and other countries in the region towards Beijing for financing has alarmed Washington.

Highlighting the gains Latin American countries had made from economic and trade cooperation with the United States, Pompeo warned about "predatory" lending practices and "malign or nefarious" actions, mirroring criticism previous US officials have made about China.

US President Donald Trump's December 2017 national security strategy said China was seeking to pull the region into its orbit through state-led investment and loans.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.