Harris’ journey to Asia has new urgency after the collapse of Afghanistan | politics
WASHINGTON (AP) – The Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan has renewed urgency to Vice President Kamala Harris’ tour of Southeast Asia in an attempt to reassure allies of American resolve after the chaotic end of two decades of war.
The trip, which begins Friday and includes stops in Singapore and Vietnam, will provide a forum for Harris to assert himself more directly on foreign policy. She will have an opportunity to reaffirm what she and President Joe Biden view as core American values, including human rights. This is especially important given concerns about the future of women and girls in Afghanistan when the Taliban are back in power.
But there are also significant risks. As a longtime district attorney and former senator, Harris is largely untested in international diplomacy and foreign policy. Your sweep through Vietnam could draw unwanted comparisons between the humiliating withdrawal of US troops in 1975 and this week’s stormy efforts to evacuate Americans and allies from Afghanistan. And all of this is happening in the shadow of China, whose growing influence worries some US politicians.
“She is entering a hornet’s nest, both with what is happening in Afghanistan and with the challenge of China, which is particularly great in Vietnam,” said Brett Bruin, who served as Global Engagement Director during the Obama administration and was a longtime diplomat . “It’s a tightrope walk on a good day. On a not so good day, he walks a tightrope as he leads an elephant across. There’s just a huge array of problems she’ll run into once Air Force Two touches down. “
Harris had some problems in June when her first major overseas trip took her to Guatemala and Mexico. Its unequivocal warning to migrants not to enter the US angered some progressive Democrats while doing little to appease Republican critics who said the government was not doing enough to combat the increase in crossings on the southern border.
When she arrives in Singapore, the anchor of the US Navy’s presence in Southeast Asia, she will have another chance to make a global impression.
On Monday, Harris will speak on the phone with Singapore President Halimah Yacob, attend a bilateral meeting with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, and make remarks on a U.S. combat ship visiting Singapore.
On Tuesday, she plans to give a speech outlining the US vision for engagement in the region and attend an event with business leaders on supply chain issues.
Harris then travels to Vietnam, a country that has both strategic and symbolic importance to US leaders there. But it is also a nation engraved on American history as the site of yet another bloody, costly war with a shameful ending.
This parallel will almost certainly be addressed by the Vice-President when she poses questions to the press during a joint press conference with the Prime Minister in Singapore on Monday. It is a potentially uncomfortable position for Harris because in July Biden explicitly rejected comparisons between Afghanistan and Vietnam, insisting that “there would be no circumstance in which people are lifted from the roof of an embassy” in Afghanistan, a reference to historical imagery a helicopter in 1975 a US embassy in Saigon was evacuated.
But the persistent efforts to get the Americans to the Kabul airport this week contradicted that prediction.
While Washington has been dominated by the disorderly end of the Afghan war for the past few days, China may be a bigger priority for Harris’ trip. Biden has made combating Chinese influence a central focus of his foreign policy around the world. Relations between the US and China have deteriorated significantly under Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump, and the two sides remain at odds on a wide variety of issues including technology, cybersecurity and human rights.
And with Beijing incursions into the controversial South China Sea, engagement with Vietnam and Singapore is key to the Biden government’s diplomatic and military goals in the region.
Former US Ambassador to Vietnam David Shear said Harris must be careful to convey a “positive” message to nations and not focus solely on China during their trip.
“Our relationships with these countries are important in themselves, and they don’t want to be seen just as pawns in a game of chess between the US and China. They want to be thought of on their own terms and they want their interests to be considered on their own terms, ”he said.
Instead, analysts hope Harris will focus on trade issues in particular during their trip. The White House is considering a new digital trade agreement with countries in the region that would enable the free flow of data and open up opportunities for US companies to collaborate more on new technologies in a rapidly growing region of the world.
And COVID-19 will certainly come first in two countries with vastly different virus trends. Singapore has only seen a few dozen pandemic-related deaths and has a relatively high vaccination rate, and the country is preparing to ease travel and economic restrictions this fall. Vietnam, meanwhile, is facing record high coronavirus infections caused by the Delta variant and low vaccination rates.
The U.S. has provided the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) with more than 23 million doses of vaccine, as well as tens of millions of dollars in personal protective equipment, laboratory equipment, and other supplies to fight the virus.
During her visit to Vietnam, Harris plans to hold a virtual meeting with ASEAN health ministers and announce the establishment of a regional office for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Gregory Poling, Senior Fellow for Southeast Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said a commitment to the region in relation to the coronavirus pandemic was key to Harris’ journey.
“I think with COVID, the government realizes that this is the only problem. If they are not seen as the leading vaccine distributor in the region then nothing else they do in Asia matters, or at least nothing else they do will find a willing audience, ”he said.
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