International

Harris traveling to Singapore, Vietnam amid Afghanistan turmoil

Vice President Harris speaks to reporters outside the Senate Chamber as the Senate votes on the bipartisan infrastructure bill on Tuesday, August 10, 2021.
Greg Nash

Vice President Harris is leaving as scheduled for a trip to southeast Asia on Friday, amid overwhelming fallout in Washington and Kabul over the Biden administration’s chaotic exit from Afghanistan.

The trip to Singapore and Vietnam was announced last month, but Harris’s trip is likely to draw intense scrutiny over U.S. credibility in following through on security commitments with allies, amid the Taliban’s lightening takeover of Afghanistan following the pullout of U.S. troops. 

Her stop in Vietnam is also sure to raise stark comparisons between the U.S.’s desperate exit from Saigon in 1975 and near mirror images that emerged out of Kabul on Sunday as U.S. military helicopters departed the embassy while evacuating staff. 

Senior administration officials briefing reporters on the vice president’s itinerary dismissed historical comparisons between Saigon and Kabul and said that Harris will remain in contact with officials in Washington over the crisis in Afghanistan while on her trip.

“She will continue to work on those issues and be in constant contact with Washington and her colleagues during this trip,” a senior administration official said. “At the same time it is also true that Southeast Asia in the Indo Pacific are really important and that’s why she’s going.” 

A second administration official further sought to separate Vietnam’s transition from an enemy state in the late 1970s to a close diplomatic and security partner with the U.S. from the current situation in Afghanistan. 

“We don’t want to get bogged down in historical comparisons,” the second official said. 

“They’re very different countries and very different parts of the world.”

The officials stressed that the vice president’s trip to Asia demonstrated the U.S.’s commitment to its allies, despite the U.S. military pullout preceding the Afghan government and security forces’ quick dissolution in the face of the Taliban offensive. 

“We have been strong security and economic partners of countries in the Indo Pacific for more than 70 years and we’ve been steadfast partners,” the senior official continued. “There’s a difference between ensuring open sea lanes in Asia, which is a priority for the United States, and the continued involvement in other countries’ civil war.” 

Harris’s trip to Singapore and Vietnam is meant to demonstrate commitment to, and deepen the working relationship on, three key areas, the officials said, including global health associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, economic partnership and security.

The administration has identified a rising China as the greatest threat of the 21st century and unity among allies, particularly in Asia, as central to their efforts to push back against Beijing.  

“We are confident that our partners throughout the Indo Pacific see the United States as a stead-fast partner and that’s certainly going to be one of the things that the vice president emphasizes on this trip,” the official said. 

Updated 7:30 p.m.

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