VP Kamala Harris to visit Singapore, Vietnam amid U.S.-China tensions

Kamala Harris in March 2021. The U.S. has a protection partnership with Singapore and is the most important overseas direct investor there. And the U.S. has rising commerce with Vietnam, which opposes China’s huge territorial claims within the South China Sea.

Chip Somodevilla | Getty Photos

SINGAPORE — U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris is anticipated on Sunday to start out her official go to to Southeast Asia — a area the place China’s economic and political influence has grown in recent times.

Harris is scheduled to reach in Singapore on Sunday, earlier than heading to Vietnam on Tuesday and departing the area on Thursday.

President Joe Biden has made it a precedence to bolster U.S. standing in Asia, and strengthening ties with Southeast Asian nations is a vital a part of Washington’s aim to maintain China’s ambitions in verify.

Southeast Asia is dwelling to greater than 660 million folks and among the fastest-growing creating economies. The area’s strategic significance additionally lies in its proximity to the South China Sea, a significant business delivery route the place trillions of {dollars} of worldwide commerce move by means of annually.

The vp’s go to adopted a number of high-level U.S. engagements with Southeast Asian leaders. Secretary of State Antony Blinken attended digital conferences of the Affiliation of Southeast Asian Nations or Asean earlier this month, whereas Protection Secretary Lloyd Austin visited a number of nations within the area in July, together with Singapore, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Biden vs. Trump

The Biden administration is extraordinarily eager to clarify that its engagement with Southeast Asia is way, a lot broader than that one subject …

Angela Mancini

Management Dangers

“The prior administration was very clear on the truth that U.S.-China strategic rivalry was the primary subject that mattered on this area. That generally put nations ready the place they felt like that they had to decide on sides,” Mancini instructed CNBC.

“The Biden administration is extraordinarily eager to clarify that its engagement with Southeast Asia is way, a lot broader than that one subject … that there is a whole lot of different points to sort out together with, for instance, Covid, and that these points are greatest addressed by lively partnership and engagement,” she added.

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The White House said in a statement final month that Harris will interact leaders of Singapore and Vietnam on points starting from regional safety, the Covid-19 pandemic and local weather change.

Former President Donald Trump was criticized for his absence at a few important regional summits in Southeast Asia, which led some political watchers to query U.S. dedication to the area.

That seeming lack of curiosity from the U.S. throughout Trump’s time period coincided with China’s extra aggressive push within the area, by means of applications akin to infrastructure investments below Chinese language President Xi Jinping‘s signature Belt and Road Initiative.

U.S. priorities in Southeast Asia

By selecting Singapore and Vietnam for Harris’ first official journey to Southeast Asia, the U.S. confirmed that it prioritizes regional safety and financial alternatives within the area, mentioned Mancini.

The U.S. has a defense partnership with Singapore and is the most important overseas direct investor within the Asian monetary hub. In the meantime, the U.S. has a rising commerce relationship with Vietnam, which is a vocal opponent of China’s vast territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Economically, commerce would have been “essentially the most pure” approach for the U.S. to deepen engagement in Southeast Asia — however U.S. home politics are a severe constraint, mentioned Mancini.

Trump in 2017 pulled the U.S. out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP, a mega commerce pact that concerned 11 different nations together with these in Southeast Asia. The remaining nations renegotiated the deal and signed the Complete and Progressive Settlement for Trans-Pacific Partnership or CPTPP in March 2018.

Alex Feldman, president and chief govt of U.S.-ASEAN Enterprise Council, mentioned the U.S. is unlikely to affix the CPTPP within the brief time period. The TPP was broadly criticized within the U.S. and was by no means authorised by Congress.

However the U.S. may strike agreements on the digital economic system with nations within the broader Asia-Pacific area, Feldman instructed CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia” final week.

Singapore has digital economy agreements with Australia, in addition to with Chile and New Zealand.

Digital commerce settlement

Whereas there are “sensible reasons” for the U.S. to pursue and lead a brand new digital settlement, Washington could have a tough time convincing different nations to affix, mentioned Deborah Elms, govt director of consultancy Asian Commerce Centre.

Elms defined in a report final week that such agreements should not new and the U.S. can be getting into “an more and more crowded panorama.” Offers that embody digital initiatives embody the CPTPP and the China-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, she famous.

“The US might want to have a transparent and convincing rationale for beginning over with one more commerce association and it might want to present value-add for potential members. In any other case, it may very well be the case that the US gives to steer the get together and discovers few takers,” wrote Elms.

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