As the US demands Sri Lanka make a choice over its economic allegiances, the Chinese foreign ministry has warned that Washington’s attempt to bully nations into cutting their ties with Beijing won’t succeed.

Speaking on Friday, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters that American efforts to disrupt Chinese relations with other countries will not be successful, adding that the US is pressuring nations into picking sides.

Zhao’s statement comes a day after the US State Department’s Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs official, Dean Thompson, urged Sri Lanka to make “difficult but necessary choices” in securing its economic independence.

“We encourage Sri Lanka to review the options we offer for transparent and sustainable economic development in contrast to discriminatory and opaque practices,” Thompson said.

His comments come a week before US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visits Sri Lanka, India, the Maldives, and Indonesia. It is likely the main objective of the visit is to amass support against China and its influence in the region.

The US and Pompeo have maintained a tough stance on China’s role in the developing world, contending that China’s “debt diplomacy” often leaves poorer nations burdened with debt it cannot afford to service.

Earlier this month, a high-profile Chinese delegation flew to Colombo to meet Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, as Beijing is seeking to deepen its economic ties in the region, including through cooperation to battle the impact of Covid-19. Following the visit, Sri Lanka asked China for a $700 million syndicated loan, in addition to the $500 million already received from Beijing, aimed at helping Colombo cope during the pandemic.

China accuses the US of undermining regional stability. Last week, as the US Navy destroyer USS Barry sailed through the Taiwan Strait, it protested at Washington’s interference. The US claimed the vessel was in “routine transit.”  

The spiraling war of words between China and the US has escalated in recent months in relation to Washington’s sale of arms to Taiwan and ramped-up US military operations in the South and East China Seas. In addition, the US has attempted to build a NATO-like alliance with regional powers, leading the Chinese to slam Washington’s “old-fashioned Cold War mentality.”

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