U.S.'s Bolton speaks to El Salvador president-elect about 'predatory' China

SAN SALVADOR (Reuters) - El Salvador’s President-elect Nayib Bukele spoke by phone on Wednesday with U.S. National Security advisor John Bolton, who said he requested cooperation to counteract what he called the “predatory” expansion of China.

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Bukele, the first candidate not from the poor Central American country’s two civil war-era parties to win a presidential election in a generation, said that his government would be a strong U.S. partner to the United States.

“The United States will find in El Salvador, not only an ally, but also a friend,” Bukele wrote on Twitter.

Relations with Washington suffered under the outgoing government of the left-wing Faribundi Marti National Liberation front (FMLN), the party of El Salvador’s former guerrilla movement, which established relations with China at the expense of Taiwan in August.

Bolton criticized the benefits that El Salvador received after establishing diplomatic relations with China.

“We discussed ways to strengthen the U.S.-El Salvador friendship and to collaborate to restore democracy in Venezuela and counter Chinese predatory practices in the hemisphere,” Bolton said.

China describes its relationship with El Salvador as friendly cooperation.

Speaking in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China had no interest in engaging in geopolitical competition in Latin America and that its cooperation with countries there, including El Salvador, was mutually beneficial.

“U.S. criticism of China-Latin America cooperation is totally baseless and irrational,” she told a daily news briefing.

Beijing offered El Salvador about $150 million to develop social projects and 3,000 tons of rice for people affected by a drought.

A Bukele aide said last week that the president-elect was evaluating the value of its relations with China.

Reporting by Nelson Renteria; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Susan Thomas