Harris berates China in major Indo-Pacific speech

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US Vice President Kamala Harris strongly berated China for its forays into the South China Sea, warning that its actions there amounted to “coercion” and “intimidation” and saying the United States would support their allies in the region against Beijing’s advances.

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

Harris, who travels through Southeast Asia for a week, said the United States “stands by our allies and partners” in the face of threats from China.

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U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris addresses the troops as she visits the USS Tulsa in Singapore on Monday, August 23, 2021 (Evelyn Hockstein / Pool Photo via AP)
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U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris addresses the troops as she visits the USS Tulsa in Singapore on Monday, August 23, 2021 (Evelyn Hockstein / Pool Photo via AP)

The speech aimed to cement the United States’ commitment to supporting its allies in an area of ​​growing importance to the Biden administration, which has made combating China’s influence globally a central focus. of its foreign policy. And it came at a critical time for the United States, as the Biden administration seeks to further solidify its pivot to Asia while the United States’ focus on the Middle East for decades. decades ended with the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Harris highlighted the change, calling the Indo-Pacific “extremely important to the security and prosperity of our country.” She said that while the United States is focused on closing its engagement in Afghanistan by evacuating as many people as possible, “it is also imperative that, as we address developments in one region, we continue to push forward. our interests in other regions, including this region. “

His rebuke to Beijing amounted to his most scathing comments to date on the American enemy. But Harris was careful to point out that the United States is seeking greater engagement in the Indo-Pacific region not only to counter China, but to advance an “optimistic vision we have for our participation and partnership in the region. “. Out of respect for Singapore’s steadfast neutrality in the US-China dispute, Harris also asserted that the United States was not seeking “to choose between countries.”

Speaking in a country that serves as an anchor for the US naval presence in Southeast Asia, Harris underscored the region’s importance to US defense. She also highlighted the United States ‘significant economic ties there, noting that Southeast Asia is the United States’ fourth largest export market.

On Monday, Harris told Sailors aboard a US combat ship at Changi Naval Base in Singapore that “much of 21st century history will be written about this very region” and that their work in defense of the region was essential.

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

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Harris also met with Singaporean President Halimah Yacob and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Monday. The Vice President’s office announced a number of agreements following the meeting aimed at tackling cyber threats, tackling climate change, tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, and alleviating problems of Supply Chain.

After his speech on Tuesday, Harris hosted a panel discussion with business leaders on supply chain issues. She later planned to travel to Vietnam, where she will meet with senior officials on 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 stepped up outreach activities in the Indo-Pacific region, with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Assistant Secretary of State Wendy Austin both visiting the region 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 this 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 “real strategic competitors” of China and Russia, China has taken to the images of violence from the evacuation to criticize the United States for their commitment there.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said on Monday that the United States had done “unscrupulous and dishonest things” in Afghanistan and called on the nation to help with reconstruction.

“The United States is the root cause and the biggest external factor of the Afghan problem,” Wenbin said. “He can’t just run away like that.”

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But Harris, at a joint press conference with Prime Minister Lee on Monday, said his presence in the country, combined with the deals around greater cooperation that the Biden administration has pursued with the countries of the Indo-Pacific says a lot about the integrity of America’s dealings with the world on many issues. “

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