Kamala Harris’s Southeast Asia Visits Amidst COVID-19: Intentions and Interests
The U.S. Vice President, Kamala Harris, visited Singapore and Vietnam on 22-24 August 2021. This trip has reflected on U.S. foreign policy over the Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy (FOIP)(a), which provides high value to Southeast Asia and also a competition between the U.S. and China. As a result, this trip has enhanced U.S.-Singapore and U.S.-Vietnam bilateral cooperation on security, defense, economy, climate change, and combating pandemics.
Dr. Chheang Vannarith, President of Asian Vision Institute, said that the FOIP strategy is a systematic and lasting competition, following by the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad)(b) to resist China’s influence through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)(c). Both initiatives have become a pressure for ASEAN member states. On the other hand, ASEAN centrality remains the most fundamental point in the ASEAN context.
The South China Sea dispute remains crucial to the U.S., even though this country is not a disputing party. The U.S. constantly criticizes China over the construction of artificial islands in the region, the violation of international law on dispute settlements, and influences Vietnam to pressure China over this issue.
Through this visit, ASEAN is viewed as a prioritized region for U.S. foreign policy after Afghanistan, as Asia and Indo-Pacific are an economic center and a geopolitical competition field between the U.S. and China. With the criticism over the uncertainty of the U.S. intention towards the region, this visit has previewed the belief in U.S. leadership which the U.S. has persuaded and given confidence to its allies in its commitment and role in maintaining peace and stability.
To add, Brunei will transfer the 2022 ASEAN Chairmanship to Cambodia in October 2021. During the 2022 ASEAN Summit and related meetings, Cambodia must consider any new initiatives to respond to and avoid any controversy in ASEAN meetings. Dr. Chheang Vannarith has highlighted that ASEAN member states have to respect the ASEAN consensus, for example over the Myanmar crisis, the South China Sea dispute for ASEAN common interest rather than state interest.
(a) Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy (FOIP) is a diplomatic policy created for developments of combined two continents (Asia and Africa) and two oceans (Pacific Ocean and Indian Ocean). This initiative was firstly proposed by Japanese administration under Prime Minister Abe and later join by its allies namely the U.S., Australia and India.
(b) Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) is a strategic dialogue only between the U.S., Australia, Japan and India. The discussion concerns security, defense, and other related issues.
(c) Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a global infrastructure initiative established by Chinese government in 2013, involving almost 140 countries.