Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is “lying through [his] teeth” when he says China is investing in impoverished countries in order to gain control of strategic ports and other infrastructure, a Beijing-based diplomat argued Monday.

“Indeed, we all need to keep our eyes wide open when we want to do something,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters when asked about Pompeo's latest broadside about China's investment strategy. "But it should be keeping eyes wide open and doing things for real, instead of keeping eyes wide open and lying through one's teeth.”

Chinese overseas investment has drawn criticism from U.S. officials, who see the communist regime making a play for access to strategically located ports. China has bristled at those charges, but Pompeo reiterated the critique while traveling in Latin America, one of the most important theaters of growing Chinese influence.

“America wants good things for the people of Panama and for the region, and so we want to make sure when there are countries that invest, China included, that they’re done in a way that is consistent with international law and they’re good for the Panamanian people,” Pompeo told Panama’s TVN last week. “And we’ve seen times when that was the case, but other times where China has not behaved that way. And so we very much want good things for the country and want to make sure that everybody has eyes wide open when it comes to China’s investments in their country and in this region.”

Hua offered a strident contradiction. “The U.S. was trying to drive a wedge by making these accusations,” she said. “Its pointless efforts underestimated the wisdom and judgment of people in relevant countries and are doomed to fail.”

China famously gained sovereignty over a port in Sri Lanka after the tiny island government defaulted on the debt incurred during the construction of the facility. U.S. officials worry that something similar could happen in the Western Hemisphere, where China has made a concerted push for closer relations with America’s southern neighbors.

“They're positioning themselves in all the different ports — in the Straits of Malacca, in the South China Sea,” said Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., who chairs the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific and also sits on the subcommittee for the Western Hemisphere. “Then you bolster that up with ships in El Salvador, possible ships in Cuba, possible ships in Haiti. ... I think it’s a big cause for concern.”