COLOMBO (AFP) - US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called China's Communist government a "predator" on Wednesday (Oct 28), during a trip to boost ties with Sri Lanka, which has received huge investment and diplomatic support from Beijing.
Mr Pompeo made his latest attack on China after talks with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on security cooperation to keep open vital Indian Ocean sea lanes just south of Sri Lanka.
"A strong sovereign Sri Lanka is a powerful strategic partner for the United States on the world stage," Mr Pompeo told reporters as he wrapped up a 12-hour visit, the second stop on a four-nation tour.
Mr Pompeo described how Washington has provided military training and recently gifted two coastguard vessels, contrasting its assistance with China.
"The Chinese Communist Party is a predator," he declared.
The Chinese embassy in Colombo hit back, tweeting a promotional image for the "Aliens v Predator" video game.
"Sorry Mr Secretary Pompeo, we're busy promoting China-Sri Lanka friendship and cooperation, not interested in your Alien v Predator game invitation," it said.
Sri Lanka's Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena made no reference to China, but at a press conference with Mr Pompeo, told reporters that the country maintains a non-aligned foreign policy.
Sri Lanka borrowed billons of dollars from China for infrastructure when Mr Rajapaksa's brother Mahinda was the country's leader from 2005 until 2015.
Unable to service a US$1.4 billion (S$1.9 billion) loan to build a deep sea port, the country was forced to lease the port to a Chinese firm for 99 years in 2017.
On Tuesday, the Chinese embassy accused Mr Pompeo of trying to "coerce and bully" Sri Lanka with his visit.
Earlier this month, Mr Yang Jiechi, a high-ranking Chinese Communist Party politburo member, pledged more economic help to Sri Lanka when he was in Colombo.
Anti-China comments have been a key theme of Mr Pompeo's Asian tour this week, which began in India and will now take him on to the Maldives and Indonesia.
China has in the past helped Sri Lanka fight off allegations of human rights violations, particularly in the final months of a decades-long civil war, when the current president was the country's top defence official.
Washington has insisted on credible investigations into charges that Sri Lankan troops killed at least 40,000 civilians as they crushed Tamil Tiger separatist rebels in 2009.
Mr Pompeo wrapped up his Sri Lanka visit by placing flowers and praying at a Roman Catholic church where 56 people were killed in militant suicide attacks on Easter Sunday last year.
Five Americans were among 279 people killed in the coordinated attacks on three churches and three hotels in and around Colombo.