U.S. Vice President Harris kicks off Asia trip amid Afghan debacle


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Singapore (AFP)

Vice President Kamala Harris began a trip to Asia on Sunday where she will reassure Washington’s commitment to the region after the chaotic withdrawal of the United States from Afghanistan and the Taliban takeover.

The swift return to power of die-hard Islamists a week ago, and desperate scenes of thousands trying to flee, have cast another shadow over America’s status as a global superpower.

But during his visit, which includes stops in Singapore and Vietnam, Harris will seek to allay concerns about the reliability of the United States.

“The vice president will make it clear throughout the trip that we have a lasting commitment to the region,” a senior US official said.

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.

The Vietnamese step has drawn criticism, with some accusing Harris of being deaf for visiting the communist country as US forces struggle to evacuate Americans, other foreigners and Afghan allies from Kabul airport.

The crisis has drawn comparisons to the 1975 trauma in Saigon, when US helicopters transported the last of the evacuees from the embassy roof as Viet Cong troops advanced.

U.S. officials, however, say the trip was planned long before the Afghan debacle – and insist Harris is focusing on Washington’s broader strategic goals in Asia.

This is the latest visit by a senior US official to the region, as President Joe Biden’s administration seeks to forge alliances against China and restore relations after Donald Trump’s turbulent presidency.

– “Strategic, economic importance” –

At a time when China is challenging US political influence and naval dominance in the Indo-Pacific region, Southeast Asia remains “strategically and economically important to this country,” an official said. the White House, which asked to remain anonymous.

“It hasn’t changed with Afghanistan.”

The 10-country region is a growing battleground for influence between the United States and China, and Washington has repeatedly criticized Beijing’s extensive claims over almost all of the South China Sea.

Four Southeast Asian states – Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines, and Vietnam – as well as Taiwan have overlapping claims with Beijing in the Flashpoint Sea, home to key shipping lanes.

Vice President Kamala Harris was greeted by Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan (C) EVELYN HOCKSTEIN / AFP POOL

“Following the previous administration and what is happening in Afghanistan, it is imperative for the United States to build political confidence in this region,” said Mustafa Izzuddin, senior international affairs analyst at consultancy Solaris Strategies. Singapore.

During the Singaporean portion of her trip, Harris will meet with the President and Prime Minister and stop at Changi Naval Base, where she will speak to U.S. sailors aboard the USS Tulsa.

She arrives in Hanoi on Tuesday evening and will be the first US vice president to visit Vietnam.

She will hold Vietnamese government meetings, attend the opening of a regional Southeast Asia branch of the United States Centers for Disease Control, and meet with representatives of civil society in the communist country.

She will also join a virtual meeting of Southeast Asian officials that will focus on the coronavirus pandemic.

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