Posted on Sunday August 22, 2021 | 6:20 p.m.
Updated 21 minutes ago
SINGAPORE (AP) – Vice President Kamala Harris to meet with Singapore President and Prime Minister as she begins visit to Southeast Asia focused on strengthening ties with key allies in the region, a complicated task by the chaotic withdrawal of the United States from Afghanistan.
The trip, which takes Harris to Singapore and then later to Vietnam this week, aims to expand cooperation with the two countries to provide a counterweight to China’s growing influence in the region. It is expected to address economic and security issues as well as efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
After meeting with President Halimah Yacob and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Monday morning, the Vice President will attend a joint press conference, and later visit Changi Naval Base, where she will meet with US sailors on board. of the USS Tulsa, a combat boat.
On Tuesday, Harris will deliver a speech outlining the Biden administration’s vision for the region and meet with business leaders to discuss supply chain issues.
The trip marks Harris’ second overseas trip – she visited Guatemala and Mexico in June – and will be the first time that a U.S. vice president will visit Vietnam.
Singapore is the anchor of the US naval presence in Southeast Asia and maintains a close trade partnership with the United States, but the country also seeks to maintain close ties with China and a position of neutrality in a context of increasingly icy relations between the United States and China.
Relations between the United States and China have deteriorated sharply under Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, and the two sides remain at odds on many issues, including technology, cybersecurity and human rights.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin made their first overseas trips to Japan and South Korea. Austin visited Singapore, Vietnam and the Philippines last month and pledged U.S. support against Beijing’s intrusions into the South China Sea.
Harris should emphasize the need for a free and open Indo-Pacific region in his conversations with the leaders of Singapore and Vietnam.
Alexander Feldman, president and CEO of the US-ASEAN Business Council, said Harris will need to be careful in his conversations with Singapore leaders not to focus too much on China, but to emphasize a positive American relationship and productive with Singapore and Vietnam.
“Where she might fall into a trap is really trying to present this as a trip between the United States and China. It should be an American trip to our friends and partners in Southeast Asia,” he said. said Feldman.
If China becomes the main focal point, he said, “it makes it harder for our friends to move forward in the region, not only in Singapore and Vietnam, but beyond.”
Indeed, Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said in a recent interview that Singapore “will be useful but we will not be used” in its relations with the two countries, and the country’s prime minister previously warned the United States against an aggressive approach towards China. .
Beijing, however, took advantage of the visit, with China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency publishing an op-ed on Harris’ trip on Saturday describing it as part of a campaign to contain China.
Visits to Southeast Asia by senior Biden officials aim to “woo these countries to form a containment circle against China.” But Southeast Asian countries are reluctant to choose sides between China and the United States, and America’s “pious plan” will end in failure, “Xinhua said.
The US approach is based on “outdated Cold War thinking and aims to provoke unrest in their relations with China, create divisions and confrontations, and try to create a ring of containment,” the US said. ‘editorial.
As Harris navigates the difficult diplomacy surrounding the China issue, she will also need to reassure key U.S. allies of America’s engagement in Southeast Asia, following Afghanistan’s tumultuous exit. Images of desperate Afghans harassing US plans to leave Kabul have drawn comparisons with footage of the fall of Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War.
Harris ‘assistants were careful to point out that while she remains deeply engaged in the situation in Afghanistan, the trip to Southeast Asia was planned long before recent events, and they say Harris’ work in Singapore and the Vietnam is important regardless of developments in Afghanistan. .