China has harshly denounced as “slanderous” accusations leveled by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo against Beijing’s policies in South America, saying it is Washington that has to be blamed for viewing Latin American countries as its own “backyard.”
During his three-day tour of Latin America, Pompeo accused China of contributing to Venezuela’s economic collapse and prolonging crisis in the country by financing President Nicolas Maduro’s government.
"US Secretary of State Pompeo, on China-Latin America relations, is wantonly slanderous, deliberately instigating, irresponsible, and unreasonable. We strongly oppose this," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said at a press briefing in Beijing on Monday.
"For a long time, the United States has regarded Latin America as its own backyard, and pressured, threatened and even toppled other countries' political regimes," Lu added, stressing that countries in the region would soon understand who their "true friend" was.
The Chinese official also lashed out at Pompeo for labeling his country hypocritical after Beijing called for non-intervention in Venezuela’s internal affairs and a negotiated solution to the country’s political crisis.
"For some time, some US politicians have been carrying the same version, the same script of slandering China all over the world, and fanning the flames and sowing discord everywhere. Such words and deeds are despicable. But lies are lies, even if you say it a thousand times, they are still lies. Mr. Pompeo, you can stop," Lu said.
"China has followed the principle of mutual respect, equality, mutual benefit, and win-win cooperation in its cooperating with Latin American countries, with the focus on common development. This has effectively helped Latin American countries with their economic development and improvement of people's livelihood," he concluded.
China is Venezuela’s main creditor and has loaned some 50 billion dollars to the country in the past decade, with Caracas repaying the debt in several installments with oil shipments.
Washington has been pressuring Maduro to step down and urging more countries to join those supporting Venezuela’s opposition figure Juan Guaido who declared himself “interim president” in January.
More than 50 countries including the United States and Venezuela’s largest neighbors have recognized Guaido, the head of Venezuela’s National Assembly, as the South American nation’s leader.
The administration of US President Donald Trump has imposed a raft of sanctions against Maduro’s government and even threatened to use military force in an attempt to remove him from power. China and Russia are among the countries that have warned Washington against the consequences of any military action in Venezuela.
The US sanctions have hurt the Venezuelan economy and ordinary people, who are already suffering from hyperinflation and food and medicine shortages, triggering mass migration to neighboring countries, such as Peru and Colombia.
Many Venezuelans, fleeing economic and political crisis at home, have joined migrant caravans of Central American countries over the past months and reached the US southern border with Mexico, where they have been facing an array of mistreatment and abuse.
About 3.7 million refugees have fled the worsening crisis in Venezuela in recent years -- a third to neighboring Colombia, according to the United Nations. That figure could reach five million by the end of the year.
Maduro blames US sanctions for the country's economic problems and dismisses Guaido as an American puppet.
Russia, China, Iran and Turkey are among the countries that have remained steadfast in their support for Maduro's legal government.