NEW DELHI: After asserting that US and India can jointly deter China's "tyranny", US secretary of state Mike Pompeo took the Trump administration's anti-Beijing campaign to two key Indian Ocean island nations.

Maldives and Sri Lanka, the two countries considered particularly at risk for what American officials allege is Chinese exploitation, hosted Pompeo less than a week before the US presidential election in which Donald Trump is seeking another term.

In efforts to boost ties with Sri Lanka, Pompeo called China's Communist government a "predator" and said that the United States' vision of the island nation is "very different" from that of Beijing.

US officials complain that development and infrastructure projects benefit China more than the presumed recipients — a refrain Pompeo repeated with Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena. Pompeo said the country could be "a beacon" for freedom and democracy in the region as long as it retained its "full sovereignty."

"That is quite a contrast to what China seeks," Pompeo said. "The Chinese Communist Party is a predator. The United States comes in a different way. We come as a friend and a partner."

Gunawardena appeared unwilling to get involved in the spat with China, and said Sri Lanka is willing to cooperate with all friendly countries.

"Sri Lanka is a neutral, non-aligned country committed to peace," he said. "We hope to continue in our relations with the United States and with other parties."

Meanwhile, the Chinese embassy in Colombo hit back at Pompeo, tweeting a promotional image for the "Aliens vs Predator" video game.

"Sorry Mr. Secretary Pompeo, we're busy promoting China-Sri Lanka friendship and cooperation, not interested in your Alien v Predator game invitation," it said.

Pompeo, who will also visit Indonesia, will press each country to push back against increasing Chinese assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific.

Earlier this month, Beijing announced it would provide Sri Lanka with a $90 million grant to help rural development, after President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa sought help from a visiting Chinese delegation in disproving a perception that China-funded megaprojects are "debt traps."

Similarly, the Maldives, a tiny archipelago nation in the Indian Ocean known for its luxury tourist resorts, is facing major debt of more than $1 billion for Chinese infrastructure projects. President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih has expressed concern about the amount.

China considers Sri Lanka and to a lesser extent the Maldives to be a critical link in its massive "Belt and Road" global infrastructure building initiative and has provided billions of dollars in loans for projects over the past decade. The projects include a seaport, airport, port city, highways and power stations in Sri Lanka and roads and bridges in the Maldives.

Critics like the US say the Chinese-funded projects are not financially viable and that Sri Lanka and the Maldives will face difficulties in repaying the loans.

In 2017, Sri Lanka leased out a Chinese-built port located near busy shipping routes to a Chinese company for 99 years to recover from the heavy burden of repaying the Chinese loan the country received to build it.

Pompeo's Sri Lanka visit came after his crucial two-day tour of India, where he and defence secretary Mark Esper had stepped up the Trump administration's anti-China message by playing on Indian suspicions about the Chinese to shore up a regional front against Beijing in the Indo-Pacific.

In an exclusive interview to Times Now earlier, Pompeo had said, “What's become very clear now is there is a battle and the battle in the world is between freedom and authoritarianism and India, like the Unites States, has chosen democracy and freedom and sovereignty and all the things that people of India care so deeply about, so when confronted by tranny by the Chinese Communist Party, you can be sure that the United States will stand by as partners. We will.”

“We can be force multipliers and deliver really good outcomes not only for the people of India or the Indo-Pacific but for the entire world," Pompeo said, indicating US support at a time when India is facing a major security threat by way of Chinese aggression along the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh.