US Vice President Kamala Harris began a trip to Asia yesterday to offer reassurances of Washington’s commitment to the region after the chaotic US pullout from Afghanistan and Taliban takeover.
The Taliban’s swift return to power one week ago, along with scenes of thousands trying to flee, have cast a shadow over the US’ status as a global superpower.
On her visit, which includes stops in Singapore and Vietnam, Harris is attempting to allay concerns about US dependability.
“The vice president will make clear throughout the trip that we do have an enduring commitment to the region,” a senior US official said.
Harris, an Asian-American whose mother was of Indian origin, landed in Singapore yesterday and is scheduled to meet the city-state’s leaders today.
The Vietnam leg of her trip has sparked criticism, with some accusing Harris of being tone-deaf for visiting the communist country as US forces struggle to evacuate Americans, other foreigners and Afghan allies from Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.
The crisis has prompted comparisons with the trauma experienced during the US’ withdrawal from Vietnam in 1975, when US helicopters ferried evacuees from the Saigon embassy roof as Viet Cong troops advanced.
US officials say the trip was planned long before the Afghanistan withdrawal and insist Harris is focused on Washington’s broader strategic goals in Asia.
It is the latest visit by a top US official to the region, as US President Joe Biden’s administration looks to build alliances against China and reset relations after the turbulent leadership of his predecessor, former US president Donald Trump.
At a time when China is challenging US political sway and naval dominance in the Indo-Pacific region, Southeast Asia remains “strategically important and economically important to this country,” said a White House official, who asked not to be named. “That hasn’t changed with Afghanistan.”
The Indo-Pacific region is a growing battleground for influence between the US and China, and Washington has repeatedly criticized Beijing’s expansive claims to almost the entire South China Sea.
Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam have overlapping claims with Beijing in the flashpoint sea.
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