Michael R. Pompeo, Secretary of State
Colombo, Sri Lanka
QUESTION: Secretary Pompeo, on behalf of national television Rupavahini (inaudible), I would like to thank you for providing this great opportunity for us, and it’s a great pleasure and honor for us to have this very important dialogue with you, sir.
SECRETARY POMPEO: It’s wonderful to be with you. It’s been great to be in Colombo. I’ve had a great visit so far.
QUESTION: Secretary Pompeo, now, your visit in Sri Lanka made headlines in many ways. First, it’s taking place just before the U.S. presidential elections. Then there was a statement made by a State Department official on Sri Lanka. So there are many speculated definitions for this visit. So what’s your definition for this visit?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So I’ve traveled to this region many times. It’s an important region for the United States. We value democratic friendships all across the world. I had hoped to get here sooner, had it previously scheduled, and had to cancel, but I’m glad that I was able to come here today, and I have not been disappointed. My meeting with President Rajapaksa, my meeting with the foreign minister were all fantastic.
You can see that there is a shared vision between the people of Sri Lanka and the people of the United States, one that wants free trade and fair trade, one that wants a free and open Indian Ocean and throughout the Indo-Pacific, one that wants to work with democracies to make life better for our families. Those are the kind of things that the United States loves to show up and work on alongside our good partners, and I’m very confident that today furthered that objective.
QUESTION: You mentioned about the Trump administration’s policy for free and open Indo-Pacific region with vital economic benefits. So now, security (inaudible) is also part of it, and so what’s the place of Sri Lanka in this overall policy, and how does it benefit to Sri Lanka?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So Sri Lanka sits astride an important shipping lane, for one. It also has a great capacity for export of agricultural products, of apparel products. Sri Lanka will benefit greatly when there’s the capacity to trade, when everyone understands that there ought to be a fair set of rules, that one not ought to accept this predatory debt that puts a real burden on countries. This runs counter to how the United States thinks about a free and open Indo-Pacific.
So whether I have been traveling in Japan or South Korea – I’ll head on to Indonesia and Maldives from here today – each of those places understands that the best interests of their people are working alongside democratic governments that really want to live their lives in a way that improves the lives of their family. These are the kind of things that Sri Lanka can work alongside not only India and Japan and South Korea, but the United States as well. We’ll deliver good outcomes for the people of Sri Lanka.
QUESTION: Yes. And MCC and security agreements, another hot topic here. There were some media reports speculating that your visit is aimed to pressure Sri Lanka in this regard. Your comments, sir?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. Well, so I’ve actually read the Sri Lankan newspapers this morning. They mostly got the purpose of the visit wrong. Look, the MCC is one strand of an offer that we made. If the Sri Lankan people want that, great. If they choose to go another path, that’s certainly fine. There are so many important things that we can work on together to make this partnership important, and for each of our two countries, to be an important part of this region which delivers on these democratic visions that we share so closely.
QUESTION: Yes. Now, you had discussions with Sri Lankan leaders, and what are the new options to expand longstanding bilateral relations, especially in this pandemic era which caused heap of economic problems?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. No, it’s very real. This challenge from this virus that came from Wuhan, China, is impacting everyone all across the world wherever I travel. No nation has been – escaped this problem set. There’s certainly the problem set of the health issues, but enormous economic issues here. Tourism was greatly impacted. That’s true in many parts of the world.
Our mission set has been very clear with respect to this: Do our level best to address the virus, make sure we take care, we take good help, find therapeutics, do the right things inside of our own country, help others around the world, and then to just go as fast as we can to get a vaccine. And we’re getting closer. I’m confident that we will ultimately get there. And when we do, we’ll reduce the risk of fatality of this disease, and we can begin the hard work and the important work of getting our economies going again.
You asked originally about the reason for my visit. We provided about $6 million in COVID assistance to Sri Lanka. We were happy to do that. But in the end, the best thing I am confident the United States will do for the people of Sri Lanka is that we will have more American businesses come here. We’ll provide an export location. We’re the largest location for Sri Lankan exports. We’re proud of the fact that we buy goods, so many goods from the people of Sri Lanka making the people of Sri Lanka lives better.
But we’re confident that American investment here can improve lives as well. When we show up, we hire Sri Lankans, we train Sri Lankans, we build those communities out in a way that’s consistent with good business practices. This is a model that is a democratic model and one that we share, and not the model that the Chinese Government shows up with. When they show up with their state-owned enterprises, it looks and feels very different and it comes with a heavy hand and a heavy hook. That’s, in our judgment, not in the best interests of the people of Sri Lanka, and we’re confident that when Americans show up, good things will flow to the people of Sri Lanka, and we really want to be here. We want to be a good friend and partner.
Sri Lanka needs to do its part. It has to be an inviting place for that kind of investment. This morning was very encouraging. I know that the president understands this as well. He wanted us to see if we could show up with help on renewable energy ideas and agriculture, things that will create development for some parts of Sri Lanka that frankly really need that kind of sustainable assistance.
QUESTION: So finally, very shortly, what’s your message to Sri Lankans?
SECRETARY POMPEO: The message is the United States is another democracy. We’ve been friends for 72 years now. I expect we’ll continue to be, and we want to be a good part of making life better for the Sri Lankan people.
QUESTION: Secretary Pompeo, thank you for being with us —
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes, sir.
QUESTION: — and wish you all the best.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you very much, sir. Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you.