Harris’ Asia trip carries new urgency after Afghan collapse

Aug 19, 2021, 9:19 PM | Updated: 10:59 pm

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan has given new urgency to Vice President Kamala Harris’ tour of southeast Asia, where she will attempt to reassure allies of American resolve following the chaotic end of a two-decade war.

The trip, which begins Friday and includes stops in Singapore and Vietnam, will provide a forum for Harris to assert herself more directly in foreign affairs. She will have opportunities to affirm what she and President Joe Biden view as core American values, including human rights. That’s especially important given concerns about the future for women and girls in Afghanistan with the Taliban back in power.

But there are also substantial risks. A longtime district attorney and former senator, Harris is largely untested in international diplomacy and foreign policy. Her swing through Vietnam could draw unwanted comparisons between the humiliating withdrawal of U.S. troops there in 1975 and the tumultuous effort this week to evacuate Americans and allies from Afghanistan. And it’s all happening in the shadow of China, whose growing influence worries some U.S. policymakers.

“She’s walking into a hornet’s nest, both with what’s taking place in Afghanistan, but also the challenge of China that looms particularly large in Vietnam,” said Brett Bruin, who served as global engagement director during the Obama administration and was a longtime diplomat. “On a good day, it’s walking a tightrope. On a not so good day, it’s walking a tightrope while leading an elephant across. There’s just an enormous set of issues that she will run into from the moment that Air Force Two touches down.”

Harris struggled at points in June when her first major trip abroad took her to Guatemala and Mexico. Her unequivocal warning to migrants not to come to the U.S. angered some progressive Democrats while doing little to mollify Republican critics who said the administration wasn’t doing enough to address a growth of crossings at the southern border.

She’ll have a fresh chance to make a global impression when she arrives in Singapore, the anchor of the U.S. naval presence in southeast Asia.

On Monday, Harris will speak with Singapore President Halimah Yacob over the phone, participate in a bilateral meeting with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and deliver remarks on a U.S. combat ship visiting Singapore.

On Tuesday, she plans to deliver a speech outlining the U.S. vision for engagement in the region, and participate in an event with business leaders focused on supply chain issues.

Harris then heads to Vietnam, a country that holds both strategic and symbolic significance for the U.S. Leaders there have echoed U.S. concerns about the rise of neighboring China and the potential threat that could pose to global security. But it’s also a nation etched into American history as the site of another bloody, costly war with an ignominious end.

The vice president will almost certainly address that parallel when she takes questions from the press in Singapore during a joint press conference with the prime minister Monday. It’s a potentially awkward position for Harris because Biden expressly rejected comparisons between Afghanistan and Vietnam in July, insisting there would be “no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of a embassy” in Afghanistan, a reference to historic images of a helicopter evacuating a U.S. embassy in Saigon in 1975.

But the harried effort to get Americans to the airport in Kabul this week defied that prediction.

While the disorderly conclusion of the Afghan war dominated Washington in recent days, China may be a bigger priority for Harris’ trip. Biden has made countering Chinese influence globally a central focus of his foreign policy. 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.

And with Beijing’s incursions in the disputed South China Sea, engagement with Vietnam and Singapore is key to the Biden administration’s diplomatic and military goals in the region.

Former U.S. ambassador to Vietnam David Shear said Harris must be careful to offer a “positive” message to the nations, and avoid focusing entirely on China during her trip.

“Our relationships with these countries are important in themselves, and they don’t want to be thought of solely as a pawn in a U.S-China chess game. 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 say they hope Harris will focus in particular on trade issues during her trip. The White House has been considering a new digital trade deal with countries in the region, which would allow for the free flow of data and open up opportunities for U.S. companies for greater cooperation on emerging technologies in a fast-growing region of the world.

And COVID-19 is certain to be top of mind in two countries facing starkly divergent virus trends. Singapore has experienced just a few dozen pandemic-related deaths and has a relatively high vaccination rate, and the country is getting ready to ease travel and economic restrictions this fall. Vietnam, meanwhile, is facing record-high coronavirus infections driven by the delta variant and low vaccination rates.

The U.S. has provided more than 23 million vaccine doses to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and tens of millions of dollars in personal protective equipment, laboratory equipment and other supplies to fight the virus.

During her visit to Vietnam, Harris is planning to hold a virtual meeting with ASEAN health ministers and tout the launch of a regional office of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Gregory Poling, a senior fellow for Southeast Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said showing a commitment to the region on the coronavirus pandemic is key for Harris’ trip.

“I think on COVID, the administration realizes that this is the singular issue. If they’re not seen as leading vaccine distribution in the region, then nothing else they do in Asia matters, or at least nothing else they do is going to find a willing audience,” he said.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


The Diesel price for trucks is displayed at a gas station in Frankfurt, Germany, Friday, Jan. 27, 2...
Associated Press

Will Europe’s ban on Russian diesel hike global fuel prices?

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — Europe is taking another big step toward cutting its energy ties with Russia, banning imports of diesel fuel and other products made from crude oil in Russian refineries. The European Union ban takes effect Feb. 5 following its embargo on coal and most oil from Russia. The 27-nation bloc is trying […]
1 hour ago
FILE- Dried branches of a tree stand outside Adani Corporate House in Ahmedabad, India, Friday, Jan...
Associated Press

Adani accuses short-seller Hindenburg of attacking India

NEW DELHI, India (AP) — India’s Adani Group, run by Asia’s richest man, has hit back at a report from U.S.-based short-seller Hindenburg Research, calling it “malicious”, “baseless” and full of “selective misinformation.” Shares in the conglomerate have suffered massive losses since Hindenburg issued its report alleging fraud and other malfeasance. On Monday, shares in […]
1 hour ago
Garbage covers the base of a waterfall of the Nairobi River, which traverses informal settlements a...
Associated Press

Is there hope for a dying river in Kenya’s growing capital?

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Vultures scavenge for dead animals along a river turned sewer conduit in Kenya’s capital Nairobi. Its waters turn from clear to black as it traverses informal settlements and industrial hubs. The river and its tributaries cross Kibera, known as Africa’s largest slum with close to 200,000 residents, and other informal settlements. […]
1 hour ago
FILE - A staff walking near a Nissan logo at Nissan headquarters is seen though a window on May 12,...
Associated Press

Automakers Renault, Nissan make cross-shareholdings equal

TOKYO (AP) — Nissan and Renault have changed their mutual cross-shareholdings equal at 15%, ironing out a source of conflict in the Japan-French auto alliance. Up to now, Renault Group has held a 43.4% stake in Nissan Motor Co. It will transfer shares equivalent to a 28.4% stake to a French trust, so it will […]
1 day ago
FILE - North Koreans visit and pay respect to the statues of late leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong ...
Associated Press

Russian embassy says North Korea lifted lockdown in capital

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Russia’s embassy in North Korea says the country has eased stringent epidemic controls in capital Pyongyang that were placed during the past five days to slow the spread of respiratory illnesses. North Korea has not officially acknowledged a lockdown in Pyongyang or a re-emergence of COVID-19 after leader Kim Jong […]
1 day ago
People walk past an electronic stock board at Taipei Exchange in Taipei, Taiwan, Monday, Jan. 30, 2...
Associated Press

Asian shares mixed after last week’s gains on Wall Street

BANGKOK (AP) — Shares were trading mixed in Asia on Monday after Wall Street benchmarks closed higher on Friday, capping a third week of gains out of the last four. Tokyo and Shanghai rose while Hong Kong, Seoul and Sydney fell. Taiwan’s benchmark jumped 3.8%. Attention was turning to Wednesday’s decision by the Federal Reserve […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

(Pexels Photo)...

Sports gambling can be fun for adults, but it’s a dangerous game for children

While adults may find that sports gambling is a way to enhance the experience with more than just fandom on the line, it can be a dangerous proposition if children get involved in the activity.
Fiesta Bowl Foundation

Celebrate 50 years of Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade magic!

Since its first production in the early 1970s, the Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade presented by Lerner & Rowe has been a staple of Valley traditions, bringing family fun and excitement to downtown Phoenix.
(Photo via MLB's Arizona Fall League / Twitter)...
Arizona Fall League

Top prospects to watch at this year’s Arizona Fall League

One of the most exciting elements of the MLB offseason is the Arizona Fall League, which began its 30th season Monday.
Harris’ Asia trip carries new urgency after Afghan collapse