WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Vice President Kamala Harris will focus on defending international bases in the South China Sea, strengthening U.S. regional leadership and expanding security cooperation during her visits to Vietnam and Singapore this month. A home official told Reuters.
Harris will be the first US vice president to visit Vietnam as Washington looks to bolster international support to counter China’s growing global influence.
The US official said Washington views both countries as important partners given their locations, the size of their economies, their trade relations and their security partnerships around things like the South China Sea, which is claimed almost entirely by China.
Vietnam, a former opponent of the United States, is vehemently opposed to China’s claims to the South China Sea. Countries in the region welcome the US military presence there largely in light of China’s militarization of the waterway, coast guard, and fishing fleet.
“We don’t want any country to dominate that region or use a position of power to undermine the sovereignty of others,” the White House official said.
“The vice president will emphasize that there should be free passage for trade across the South China Sea and that no country should respect the rights of others.”
The US Navy has maintained a consistent pattern of freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and around Taiwan, but this appears to have done little to discourage Beijing.
Harris’ trip follows a visit last week by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to Hanoi, where he sought to bolster deep security ties. Read more
It will also follow high-level talks between US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and top Chinese diplomats last month, which did little to ease the already severe tension in relations. Read more
This week, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken will try to reinforce the US message that it is serious about taking Southeast Asia in response to China by participating in a series of virtual regional meetings. Read more
During a virtual session of the Aspen Security Forum on Tuesday, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the US high-level visits were “highly appreciated” because they showed that Washington knows it has essential interests to protect and advance in the region.
However, he expressed concern about the deteriorating relations between the United States and China, and said that many countries hope to see this as frustrating “because many American friends and allies want to maintain their expanded relations with both powers.”
He said: “It is essential that the United States and China struggle to communicate to avoid a clash that could be disastrous for both sides and the world.”
The White House official said the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccinations, and quality of vaccines will also be a top priority for Harris.
Last month, Washington shipped 3 million doses of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine to Vietnam, bringing total donations to Hanoi to 5 million.
Harris is scheduled to arrive in Singapore on August 22. It arrives in Vietnam on August 24 and departs on August 26.
(This story has been corrected to remove the strange word in paragraph 2).
(Reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington and Aradhana Aravindan in Singapore; Editing by David Prestrom and Nick Ziminsky
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