WASHINGTON (AP) — Vice President Kamala Harris will visit Southeast Asia later this month aiming to bolster U.S. engagement in the region in an effort to counter China’s growing influence globally.
In an early preview of the goals for her trip to Singapore and Vietnam, Harris deputy national security adviser Phil Gordon said the vice president will emphasize the Biden administration’s commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific region, with a focus on reinforcing regional security in the area.
“The vice president will meet with government officials, leaders, people in the private sector and civil society, and she’ll focus on strengthening U.S. leadership, expanding security cooperation, deepening economic partnerships, defending the international rules-based order, in particular in the South China Sea, and standing up for our values as we do with all of our friends and partners,” he said.
The full details of Harris’ trip are still being worked out, but for her second foreign trip and first trip as vice president overseas, she is planning a weeklong engagement in the region — from Aug. 20 to 26 — a significantly longer trip than her two-day tour through Guatemala and Mexico in June. Then, she met with the leaders of both countries to discuss ways to address the root causes of migration to the U.S. from the region, a central focus of her portfolio as vice president.
Harris has had less public engagement in Southeast Asia, but Asia has been a central focus for the Biden administration from the beginning of Joe Biden’s presidency, as he’s sought to counter China’s diplomatic and military incursions in the region.
Relations between the U.S. and China deteriorated sharply under Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, and the two sides remain at odds over a host of issues including technology, cybersecurity and human rights.
Last week, during a speech at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Biden warned that Chinese President Xi Jinping is “deadly earnest about becoming the most powerful military force in the world, as well as the largest and most prominent economy in the world by the mid-’40s, the 2040s.”
The president has sent some of his top Cabinet officials to Asia to show support for U.S. allies in the region.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin made their first overseas trip to Japan and South Korea. Austin traveled to Singapore, Vietnam and the Philippines last month where he vowed U.S. support against Beijing’s intrusions in the South China Sea.
Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman traveled to Indonesia, Thailand and Cambodia in May and early June. Last month she visited Japan, South Korea and Mongolia before heading to China for high-level talks that ultimately did little to resolve many of the deep divisions between the two countries.
Harris will be the first U.S. vice president to visit Vietnam, and her trip is meant to show the depth of the U.S. commitment to the region.
“The National Security Council was very supportive of the notion that the vice president would be well placed to complement those other meetings and visits with travel to Singapore and Vietnam,” Gordon said. “It’s really part of an overall unified administration engagement strategy that shows our comprehensive engagement in East Asia, South Asia and Southeast Asia as well.”