US Vice President Kamala Harris will begin a Southeast Asian diplomatic tour in Singapore today.
Harris will reiterate President Joe Biden’s commitment to counter China in the region. However, the trip comes in the shadow of President Biden’s rapid withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, fueling disquiet among US allies.
In light of the Afghanistan withdrawal, Harris’ first job will likely be to overcome historic suspicion of American unreliability in Southeast Asia and reassure allies of Washington’s engagement in the region. Visiting Singapore and Vietnam—becoming the first sitting US vice president to do so—maximizing US damage-control optics. Singapore is a long-time strategic partner and Vietnam faces Chinese pressure in the South China Sea and also hosted an equally chaotic US withdrawal that parallels Afghanistan. Furthermore, Harris will likely headline significant US vaccination supplies in a region which has struggled to obtain western vaccines—forcing many Southeast Asian nations to turn to Chinese alternatives.
Washington’s COVID-19 assistance will likely exploit a big hole left by China’s vaccine failures. However, the lack of consultation with key allies ahead of Biden’s Afghan departure will continue to raise concerns among Southeast Asian allies in a region which culturally values face-to-face diplomacy.
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John is a Senior Analyst with an interest in Indo-Pacific geopolitics. Master of International Relations (Australian National University) graduate with study focus on the Indo-Pacific. Qualified lawyer (University of Auckland, NZ) with experience in post-colonial Pacific & NZ legal systems.