Vice President Kamala Harris embarked on a trip to Asia on Sunday, where she will offer reassurance about Washington’s commitment to the region following the US’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and its takeover by the Taliban.
The swift return of hardline Islamists a week ago and desperate scenes of thousands trying to flee have cast a new shadow over the United States’ status as a global superpower.
But during her visit, which includes stops in Singapore and Vietnam, Harris will try to allay concerns about US reliability.
“The vice president will make it clear during the trip that we have an abiding commitment to the region,” said a senior US official.
Harris, an Asian-American whose mother was of Indian descent, landed in Singapore on Sunday and will begin operations Monday by meeting with city-state leaders.
Its leg in Vietnam has sparked criticism, with some accusing Harris of being tone-deaf to visiting the communist country as US troops struggle to evacuate Americans, other foreigners and Afghan allies from the Kabul airport.
The crisis has drawn comparisons to the trauma of Saigon in 1975, when US helicopters transferred the last of the evacuees from the embassy roof as Viet Cong troops advanced.
However, US officials say the trip was planned long before the Afghan debacle — and claim Harris is focusing on Washington’s broader strategic goals in Asia.
It is the latest visit by a top US official to the region as President Joe Biden’s administration strives to build alliances against China and restore relations after Donald Trump’s turbulent presidency.
‘Strategic, economic importance’
At a time when China is challenging US political rule and maritime dominance in the Indo-Pacific region, Southeast Asia remains “strategically important and economically important to this country,” said a White House official who asked not to to be called.
“That hasn’t changed with Afghanistan.”
The ten-nation region is a growing battleground for influence between the United States and China, and Washington has repeatedly criticized Beijing’s extensive claims over almost the entire South China Sea.
Four Southeast Asian states – Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam – and Taiwan have overlapping claims with Beijing in the flashpoint sea, home to important shipping routes.
“After the previous administration and what is happening in Afghanistan, it is an absolute necessity for the US to build political trust in this region,” said Mustafa Izzuddin, senior analyst for international affairs at consultancy Solaris Strategies Singapore.
On the part of her journey to Singapore, Harris will meet with the President and Prime Minister and make a stop at the Changi Naval Base, where she will address American sailors aboard the visiting USS Tulsa.
She will arrive in Hanoi late Tuesday and will be the first US vice president to visit Vietnam.
She will hold meetings of the Vietnamese government, attend the opening of a Southeast Asian regional branch of the US Centers for Disease Control, and meet representatives of civil society in the communist country.
She will also participate in a virtual meeting of Southeast Asian officials who will focus on the coronavirus pandemic.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NewsMadura staff and has been published from a syndicated feed.)