WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday accused China of seeking to build an "empire" by bribing leaders with investment and vowed to fight it "at every turn."
As tensions led by trade disputes soar between China and President Donald Trump's administration, the United States has increasingly warned developing nations, especially in Latin America, to beware Beijing's economic push.
Speaking to conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, Pompeo said that the United States welcomed "commercial competition with China on a fair and reciprocal basis."
"But when China shows up with bribes to senior leaders in countries in exchange for infrastructure projects that will harm the people of that nation, then this idea of a treasury-run empire build is something that I think would be bad for each of those countries," Pompeo said.
China's economic push "certainly presents risk to American interests, and we intend to oppose them at every turn," he said.
Pompeo cast the Chinese policy as part of a more assertive drive by President Xi Jinping, saying that Beijing's willingness to splash money around the world has increased in the past two to three years.
Xi in 2015 pledged USD 250 billion in direct investment in Latin America and the Caribbean and twice as much in trade, meaning that China would displace the United States as the largest economic partner in some countries.
China defends its trade as mutually beneficial and says that, unlike Western powers, it will steer clear of meddling in other countries' internal affairs.
But critics say that China's interest in Latin America and Africa is almost exclusively about extracting natural resources and otherwise boosting its own economy, with little regard for local workers or long-term local growth.
China has also been wooing countries away from Taiwan, which it considers a province awaiting reunification, with El Salvador in August becoming the latest to recognize Beijing and dump Taipei.