Can Kamala Harris' Anti-China Rhetoric on Asian Trip Boost US Credibility After Afghan Fiasco?
© AP Photo / Manuel Balce CenetaVice President Kamala Harris speaks during a roundtable with disabilities advocates on voting rights in the Vice President's Ceremonial Office at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex, Wednesday, July 14, 2021, in Washington
© AP Photo / Manuel Balce Ceneta
Vice President Kamala Harris has embarked on a two-leg Southeast Asia trip, which includes visits to Singapore and Vietnam, as the US finalises its withdrawal from Afghanistan. Will Harris manage to reassure Washington's partners in Asia and form a "united front" against Beijing?
On her Southeast Asian tour, US Vice President Kamala Harris accused China of making "unlawful" claims in the South China Sea, stressing Beijing was engaged in "coercion and intimidation". The vice president also accused the People's Republic of "undermin[ing] the rules-based order and threatening the sovereignty of nations".
The trip, branded by CNN as the Biden administration's attempt to "deliver a foreign policy win for an administration in crisis" was meant to reassure America's Asian allies of Washington's long-term commitment to the region, according to Francesco Sisci, a Beijing-based China expert, author, and columnist.
While European policymakers are concerned about the potential spike in terrorist activities in Asia, the US withdrawal is "seen as a sign of the new American commitment to the [Southeast Asian] region", according to the China expert.
Yet, the US VP's charm offensive may be less effective in Hanoi, believes Dr Stephen Nagy, a senior associate professor at the International Christian University in Tokyo and a fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute (CGAI). Unlike Singapore, which has maintained long standing political and military relations with the United States, "Vietnam remains wedded to its political system and continues to have strong party-to-party ties with China's Communist Party", according to the professor.
"It's economic ties to Beijing as well mean Hanoi must balance relations with the US and China", he suggests.
According to The Diplomat, Vietnam and China struck "a comprehensive strategic partnership" in 2009, while Hanoi's relations with the US "remain at the level of a comprehensive partnership", despite Washington's attempts to upgrade the relationship to a strategic level.
© Chad McNeeleySecretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and Vietnamese Defense Minister Phan Van Giang bump elbows after the signing the Vietnamese Wartime Accounting Initiative Memorandum of Understanding between the two countries in Hanoi, Vietnam, July 29, 2021.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and Vietnamese Defense Minister Phan Van Giang bump elbows after the signing the Vietnamese Wartime Accounting Initiative Memorandum of Understanding between the two countries in Hanoi, Vietnam, July 29, 2021.
The issue was touched upon during the July talks between US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin and Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc, according to the media outlet. Vietnam and the US also share a controversial historic record as the two were engaged in a 19-year war which ended with Washington's hasty retreat from Saigon in 1975. North Vietnam won the war being backed by the USSR and China.
"Harris is in Southeast Asia to protect her from fallout over Afghanistan and spruce up her geopolitical bona fides before, presumably, she takes over for a quickly failing Joe Biden", suggests Tom Luongo, a geopolitical analyst and publisher of the Gold Goats'n Guns Newsletter.
The vice president focused on the South China Sea in order to avoid the Taiwan issue which has taken on a new significance "given the collapse of the US's Central Asian strategy", according to the analyst.
Harris' statements are "typical Washington doublespeak" signalling, on the one hand, that the US isn't leaving the region, but on the other hand is "not willing to confront China over its sabre-rattling vis-a-vis Taiwan, which is the real issue", Luongo suggests.
© AP Photo / Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Samantha JetzerIn this photo provided by U.S. Navy, an F/A-18E Super Hornet lands on the flight deck of the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), as USS Nimitz (CVN 68) steams alongside in the South China Sea, Monday, July 6, 2020.
In this photo provided by U.S. Navy, an F/A-18E Super Hornet lands on the flight deck of the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), as USS Nimitz (CVN 68) steams alongside in the South China Sea, Monday, July 6, 2020.
© AP Photo / Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Samantha Jetzer
After Washington's Afghan debacle, the US commitment to Taiwan has come under scrutiny, according to Politico. The question is whether Washington would interfere and protect the island in the event of China's hypothetical offensive. The media outlet admitted that "the fundamental challenge to the US commitment to Taiwan" is the "growing tension" between the need to maintain bilateral strategic stability with China and a hypothetical scenario in which the US would have to confront Beijing over Taiwan. "Washington recognizes… the importance of working with Beijing to maintain bilateral strategic stability… [and] address urgent global challenges, such as the pandemic and climate change," Politico noted.
"There is nothing new about Harris saying one thing (Asians don't have to choose between the US and China) and doing another (behind closed doors our vassal allies have to shun the PRC)", he says.
While the US resorts to a classic technique by the western Machiavelli and Chinese Sun Zi, Beijing is "applying the noble ideals of the United Nations Charter and the Bandung Declaration, to respect the core interests of all countries, large and small", he says.
In the long term, Beijing's "soft power" strategy "will win Asian hearts and minds over the West's Great Game hegemony", Brown concludes.