Harris plans to meet with US sailors aboard the USS Tulsa in a visit to Changi Naval Base on Monday, making her the highest ranking official to address troops in person as the disastrous evacuation of Afghanistan plays out.
The Taliban‘s stunning return to power a week ago, and desperate scenes of thousands trying to flee Kabul, have cast another grim shadow over the United States’ status as a global superpower.
Harris will also visit Vietnam on her tour, a stop that has prompted criticism that she is tone-deaf for visiting the communist country as US forces struggle to evacuate Americans, other foreigners and Afghan allies from Kabul airport.
The crisis has prompted comparisons with the traumatic scenes from the 1975 Fall of Saigon, when US helicopters ferried final evacuees from the embassy roof as Viet Cong troops advanced.
US Vice President Kamala Harris landed in Singapore on Sunday to kick off her week-long tour of Asia, escaping DC as President Joe Biden faces the biggest crisis of his administration
Harris will also visit Vietnam on the tour, a stop that has prompted criticism that she is tone-deaf for visiting the communist country as US forces struggle to evacuate Kabul
US officials say Harris’ trip was planned long before the Afghan debacle, however — and insist Harris is focused on Washington’s broader strategic goals in Asia
Biden drew criticism after he insisted several weeks ago that Kabul would not be a replay of the Fall of Saigon. Observers tend to agree that the situation in Afghanistan has in fact been far worse.
US officials say Harris’ trip was planned long before the Afghan debacle, however — and insist Harris is focused on Washington’s broader strategic goals in Asia.
Harris has remained nearly completely out of public sight as the Afghan crisis unfolded this week, prompting accusations that she is attempting to distance herself from the Afghan crisis.
But as she left DC, she told reporters that Afghanistan remained the administration’s focus, saying: ‘We couldn’t have a higher priority right now.’
‘And a particular high priority is making sure that we safely evacuate American citizens, Afghans who worked for them, Afghans at risk – including women and children,’ she said.
‘And it’s a big area of focus for me in the past days and weeks, and will continue to be.’
On her Asian junket, the vice president plans to offer reassurances of Washington’s commitment to the region, amid regional tensions over China’s sweeping claims over the South China Sea, part of which is claimed by Vietnam.
But on her visit, which includes stops in Singapore and Vietnam, Harris will likely be forced to allay concerns about US dependability and commitment to allies.
‘The vice president will make clear throughout the trip that we do have an enduring commitment to the region,’ said a senior US official.
Harris flew into the tiny island city-state on the Boeing C-32 serving as Air Force Two
Harris was greeted warmly by Singapore Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and other dignitaries
Singapore’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan (center) greets Harris
Harris, an Asian-American whose mother was of Indian origin, landed in Singapore Sunday and will start her activities Monday by meeting the city-state’s leaders.
She was greeted warmly by Singapore Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and other dignitaries as she disembarked the Boeing C-32 serving as Air Force Two.
It is the latest visit by a top US official to the region, as Biden’s administration looks to build alliances against China and reset relations after the turbulent Donald Trump presidency.
At a time when China is challenging US political sway and naval dominance in the Indo-Pacific region, Southeast Asia remains ‘strategically important and economically important to this country’, said a White House official, who asked not to be named.
‘That hasn’t changed with Afghanistan,’ the official said.
The 10-country region is a growing battleground for influence between the United States and China, and Washington has repeatedly criticized Beijing’s expansive claims to almost the entire South China Sea.
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris is greeted by Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and his delegation, as she arrived at Paya Lebar Air Base in Singapore on Sunday
Harris is on a tour of Southeast Asia, where she will attempt to reassure allies of American resolve following the chaotic end of a two-decade war
Secret Service agents escort Harris into her limousine at Paya Lebar Base airport in Singapore
Four Southeast Asian states — Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam — as well as Taiwan have overlapping claims with Beijing in the flashpoint sea, home to key shipping lanes.
‘Following the previous administration and what’s happening in Afghanistan, it is a categorical imperative for the US to build up political trust in this region,’ said Mustafa Izzuddin, a senior international affairs analyst at consultancy Solaris Strategies Singapore.
During the Singapore leg of her trip, Harris will meet the president and prime minister and make a stop at the Changi Naval Base, where she’ll address US sailors aboard the visiting USS Tulsa.
She arrives in Hanoi late Tuesday, and will be the first US vice president to visit Vietnam.
She will hold Vietnamese government meetings, attend the opening of a Southeast Asian regional branch of the US Centers for Disease Control, and meet civil society representatives in the communist country, which has emerged as a potential US ally.
She will also join a virtual meeting of Southeast Asian officials which will focus on the coronavirus pandemic.