United States

Amid Afghan crisis, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris visits Asia

Published : August 23, 2021 17:29 IST

Vice President Kamala Harris began her two-nation Asia visit in Singapore on August 22. Photo: ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP

Kamala Harris' visit to Asia comes at time of a humiliating withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris arrived in Singapore on August 22, kicking off her trip to Southeast Asia where she is expected to offer reassurances of Washington's commitment to the region. The vice-president's visit come just days after the chaotic withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and the subsequent takeover of the country by the Taliban.

The return to power of the hardline Islamists in the conflict-ridden country has dented the United States' credibility and cast a shadow over its resolve to defend its values. During her visit, which began on August 20 and includes stops in Singapore and Vietnam, Harris will likely seek to allay concerns about U.S. dependability.

A foreign policy novice?

The trip will also provide Harris, an Asian-American whose mother was of Indian-origin, a forum to assert herself directly in foreign affairs. The longtime district attorney and former senator is largely untested in diplomacy and foreign policy.

The vice president will meet Singapore's leaders on August 23, including the president and prime minister. She will then make a stop at the Changi Naval Base, where she'll address U.S. sailors aboard the visiting USS Tulsa.

First U.S. VP in Vietnam

Harris will arrive in Hanoi late on August 24, becoming the first U.S. vice president to visit Vietnam. She will hold government meetings and attend the opening of a Southeast Asian branch of the U.S. Centre for Disease Control.

However, her visit to the communist country has been particularly criticized for being tone deaf, as the U.S. struggles to evacuate Americans and Afghan allies out of Kabul. Visuals of the chaotic U.S. evacuation from Kabul last week drew comparisons with a similar image of Saigon in 1975 where U.S. helicopters ferried the last evacuees from the embassy roof.

Strategic importance of Southeast Asia

U.S. officials said the trip was planned long before the collapse of Afghanistan and the main focus will remain Washington's broader strategic goals in Asia. In Hanoi, Harris will join a virtual meeting of Southeast Asian officials which will focus on the coronavirus pandemic. Her trip aims to establish deeper ties with the region that Washington considers key to checking Chinese expansion.

Southeast Asia remains "strategically important and economically important to this country", a White House official told the AFP news agency. It comes against the backdrop of an increasingly assertive China challenging U.S. hegemony in the Indo-Pacific region.

adi/rc (AFP, AP)