SANTIAGO – The accusations U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo leveled during his visit to Chile on Friday have caused a diplomatic dispute with China. Pompeo said that working with Chinese technology giant Huawei puts Chilean citizens in danger. He also criticized Chinese investment in Latin America.
Mike Pompeo started his trip to South America with a visit to Chile’s capital Santiago on Friday. Although the main purpose of his visit was to discuss Venezuela’s crisis, his criticism of China sparked outcry from diplomats in Chile and abroad.
The U.S. Secretary of State questioned the planned visit of President Sebastián Piñera to technology giant Huawei next week in China. Pompeo claimed “Huawei is controlled by the China government, meaning that giving information of your citizens to Chinese infrastructure presents risks to the citizens of Chile.”
Although Pompeo added “Piñera decides who he sees and where he travels,” Interior Minister Andrés Chadwick admitted after the meeting that the scheduled visit wasn’t sure to go ahead.
Pompeo did not only attack Huawei but China’s entire foreign investment policies, when he said that Chile’s No. 1 business partner “often injects corrosive capital into the economic bloodstream, giving life to corruption and eroding good government, when they come to do business in places such as Latin America. They enter the house, set traps, ignore the rules and propagate disorder.”
China responds furiously
The statements from Washington’s top diplomat triggered a furious response from Chinese diplomats. China’s ambassador to Chile Xu Bu said in an interview with La Tercera newspaper that “Pompeo has lost his mind and gone too far.”
According to Xu Bu, “Pompeo is a hypocrite, as the United States have not made substantial contributions to the economic development of Latin American countries, but attack China for its investments in Latin America. Historically, the United States have treated Latin America as their backyard, imposing military interventions and sanctions.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang, according to Reuters, said that “U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo, is wantonly slanderous, deliberately instigating, irresponsible, and unreasonable on China-Latin America relations. We strongly oppose this.”
Pompeo “arrogant,” his statements “nonsense”
Former Foreign Minister Heraldo Muñoz in an interview with Cooperativa news service said he hoped that President Piñera “responds with firm dignity that Chile does not submit its sovereignty to any country and that it develops its external ties according to its national interests.”
Muñoz continued to call Pompeo “arrogant” and his statements “nonsense.”
“It is ironic that the United States negotiates more access to the Chinese market, while it aims that countries like Chile do not have the same access to those markets or Chinese investments,” Muñoz said.
Trapped Between Two Superpowers
The friction Pompeo caused illustrates Chile’s uncomfortable position. The United States and China are the country’s two main trading partners, and the China-U.S. trade war, the Venezuela crisis, and China’s “Belt Road 2.0” have put Latin America at the center of a commercial and geostrategic rivalry.
Both countries are of major importance for the Chilean economy – 30 percent of Chile’s exports go to China, and 17 percent to the U.S. The U.S. and Chile share deeper historical and political ties while trade between Chile and China exceeded US $42,8 billion last year, according to the Chinese embassy in Chile.
Editor-In-Chief Boris van der Spek is the founder of Chile Today.