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Thursday, September 23, 2021

Kamala Harris rebukes China in major speech on Indo-Pacific

Kamala Harris, who is on a weeklong swing through Southeast Asia, declared that the US "stands with our allies and our partners" in the face of threats from China.

By: AP | Singapore |
Updated: August 24, 2021 4:12:23 pm
Kamala Harris, Kamala Harris on China, US China, South China Sea Kamala Harris, Kamala Harris news, Kamala Harris South Asia Tour, South Asia Kamala Harris, Kamala Harris newsUS Vice President Kamala Harris takes questions from reporters as she visits the Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay, following her foreign policy speech in Singapore, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021. (AP)

US Vice President Kamala Harris delivered a sharp rebuke to China for its incursions in the South China Sea, warning its actions there amount to “coercion” and “intimidation” and affirming that the US will support its allies in the region against Beijing’s advances.

“We know that Beijing continues to coerce, to intimidate and to make claims to the vast majority of the South China Sea,” she said in a major foreign policy speech Tuesday in Singapore in which she laid out the Biden administration’s vision for the Indo-Pacific. “Beijing’s actions continue to undermine the rules-based order and threaten the sovereignty of nations.”

Harris, who is on a weeklong swing through Southeast Asia, declared that the US “stands with our allies and our partners” in the face of threats from China.

The speech sought to cement the US commitment to supporting its allies in an area of growing importance to the Biden administration, which has made countering China’s influence globally a centerpiece of its foreign policy. And it came during a critical moment for the United States, as the Biden administration seeks to further solidify its pivot toward Asia while America’s decades-long focus on the Middle East comes to a messy end with the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Kamala Harris, Kamala Harris on China, US China, South China Sea Kamala Harris, Kamala Harris news, Kamala Harris South Asia Tour, South Asia Kamala Harris, Kamala Harris news US Vice President Kamala Harris, third left, takes part in a roundtable at Gardens by the Bay in Singapore before departing for Vietnam on the second leg of her Southeast Asia trip, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021. (AP)

Harris underscored this shift, calling the Indo-Pacific “critically important to our nation’s security and prosperity.” She said that while the US is focused on closing out its Afghanistan engagement by evacuating as many people as possible, “it is also imperative that as we address developments in one region, we continue to advance our interests in other regions, including this region.”

Her rebuke to Beijing amounted to her sharpest comments yet on the US foe. And China hit back, with Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin invoking Afghanistan in his response to a question about Harris’ comments, saying the messy withdrawal from Kabul showed the US had lost credibility. He charged that the US “can smear, suppress, coerce, and bully other countries at will in order to maintain America first, without paying any price.”

“This is the order that the US wants. The US always tries to make use of the rules and order to justify its own selfish, bullying and hegemonic behavior, but who still believe it now?” Wang said.

Kamala Harris, Kamala Harris on China, US China, South China Sea Kamala Harris, Kamala Harris news, Kamala Harris South Asia Tour, South Asia Kamala Harris, Kamala Harris news US Vice President Kamala Harris visits the USS Tulsa in Singapore, Monday, Aug. 23, 2021. (AP)

In her remarks, Harris was careful to emphasize that the US is seeking greater engagement in the Indo-Pacific region not just to counter China, but to advance an “optimistic vision that we have for our participation and partnership in the region.” In deference to Singapore’s staunch neutrality in the US-China dispute, Harris also affirmed that the US isn’t looking to “make anyone choose between countries.”

Speaking in a country that serves as the anchor of the US naval presence in Southeast Asia, Harris emphasized the significance the region holds for US defense. She also emphasized the significant US economic ties there, noting that Southeast Asia represents America’s fourth largest export market.

On Monday, Harris told sailors aboard a US combat ship at the Changi naval base in Singapore that “a big part of the history of the 21st century will be written about this very region” and that their work defending the region was pivotal.

Kamala Harris, Kamala Harris on China, US China, South China Sea Kamala Harris, Kamala Harris news, Kamala Harris South Asia Tour, South Asia Kamala Harris, Kamala Harris news US Vice President Kamala Harris speaks to troops as she visits the USS Tulsa in Singapore, Monday, Aug. 23, 2021. (AP)

“It is in our vital interest to stand united with our allies and our partners in Southeast Asia in defense of a free and open Indo-Pacific,” she said.

Harris also met Monday with Singapore President Halimah Yacob and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. The vice president’s office announced a number of agreements out of that meeting aimed at combating cyberthreats, tackling climate change, addressing the COVID-19 pandemic and alleviating supply chain issues.

After her speech Tuesday, Harris held a roundtable discussion with business leaders on supply chain issues. Later, she planned to travel to Vietnam, where she’ll meet with top officials Wednesday.

President Joe Biden himself has repeatedly emphasized his focus on China as one of America’s main adversaries. In recent months, his administration has ramped up outreach to the Indo-Pacific region, with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman both visiting the area in the spring and summer. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also held a number of virtual meetings with Southeast Asian officials earlier this month.

The chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan, however, complicated that message of support to the region, raising questions about the US commitment to its allies. While Biden said last week that an indefinite engagement would have benefited “true strategic competitors” China and Russia, China has seized on the images of violence from the evacuation to slam the US for its engagement there.

But Harris, during a joint news conference with Prime Minister Lee on Monday, said that her presence in the country, combined with the agreements around greater cooperation that the Biden administration has pursued with Indo-Pacific countries, speak “volumes in terms of the integrity of the relationships that the United States has around the world on many issues.”

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