US Vice President Kamala Harris Harris (L) and Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong hold a joint news conference in Singapore on August 23, 2021. (Photo by Evelyn HOCKSTEIN / POOL / AFP) via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON is committed towards “enduring engagement in Southeast Asia and Indo-Pacific”, US vice president Kamala Harris claimed today (23) in Singapore. She is on a short tour to Southeast Asia during which she is expected to offer reassurances of Washington’s commitment amid unrest in Afghanistan and concerns over China’s growing influence in the region.
After arriving on Sunday (22), Harris began her official engagements today (23) by holding talks with top leaders as the two countries signed agreements on combating cyber threats, climate change, and the coronavirus pandemic.
Part of Harris’s task during the trip will be to convince leaders in Singapore and Vietnam that Washington’s commitment to Southeast Asia is firm and not a parallel to Afghanistan.
“Our administration is committed to enduring engagement in Singapore, into Southeast Asia and the Indo-Pacific,” Harris told a press conference alongside Singapore’s prime minister Lee Hsien Loong and President Halimah Yacob.
“The reason I am here is because the United States is a global leader, and we take that role seriously.”
On being asked whether US credibility had been damaged by the Afghan debacle, Harris said that her government’s current focus is on “evacuating American citizens, Afghans who worked with us and vulnerable Afghans, including women and children”.
“There is going to be plenty of time to analyse what has happened and what has taken place in the context of the withdrawal from Afghanistan,” Harris said during a joint news conference with Singapore’s top leaders.
US president Joe Biden has been facing criticism over his handling of the withdrawal of US forces that was closely followed by hardline Islamists’ swift return to power a week ago.
“We hope Afghanistan does not become an epicentre for terrorism again,” Singapore prime minister said, adding that the country has offered transport aircraft to help with evacuations.
He added that perceptions of the US’ resolve and commitment to the region will be determined by “what the US does going forward, how it repositions itself in the region, how it engages its broad range of friends and partners and allies.”
Singapore is not a US treaty ally but is one of its strongest security partners in the region with deep trade ties. However, the country also reportedly maintains balance in its relationships with the US and China by not taking sides.
Singapore is home to the biggest port in Southeast Asia and supports continued free navigation in the area, where China is growing increasingly assertive- something which concerned US officials plan to address during Harris’ ongoing visit to the region, which also includes a trip to Vietnam.