WASHINGTON: (AA) Washington will continue to speak up against China’s actions that threaten global order and the sovereignty of nations, the US vice president said as she concluded her Southeast Asia tour on Thursday.
“When it comes to Beijing, let me be very clear and the president [Joe Biden] has been very clear… On issue of South China Sea, we are going to speak up… when there are actions that Beijing takes that threaten the rules-based international order, such as actions in the South China Sea,” Kamala Harris said.
She said the US “welcomes” competition but “does not seek conflict.”
“Freedom of navigation is high priority for us; it not only relates to security but to commerce [as well],” Harris said at a news conference before departing from Vietnam’s capital Hanoi, her last stop in the region.
“We make sure we stay committed to our partners and allies in the region… I [have] also reaffirmed the commitment that the US has to a common vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific,” she added, terming Southeast Asia the “seat of the US’ Indo-Pacific policy.”
Harris’ weeklong Southeast Asia tour coincided with the US’ withdrawal from Afghanistan, where she said the situation remains “risky and dangerous.”
She asserted that the US will do everything to “evacuate its citizens and those who worked for Washington from Afghanistan.”
This was the first visit by any US vice president to Vietnam since the two countries formally established diplomatic relations in 1995.
‘US will strengthen interests in region’
Earlier in Singapore, Harris said the US is aware that China “continues to coerce, to intimidate and to make claims to the vast majority of the South China Sea.”
“Beijing’s actions continue to undermine the rules-based order and threaten the sovereignty of nations,” Harris said in a speech on Tuesday.
The South China Sea is claimed by Beijing and several other regional countries, and the continuing US naval operations in the Taiwan Strait, part of the disputed sea, have angered China.
China’s assertions are based on its “nine-dash line” – purple dashes on official Chinese maps that denote Beijing’s historical claims in the sea.
Beijing has refused to acknowledge the presence of the US in the region, dismissing it as “interference by an outsider.”
Despite China’s warnings that the sea “should not become a battleground for big powers,” a recent study found the US surveyed the South China Sea “on an almost daily basis” in the first half of this year.
Vietnam is among the regional countries that have contesting claims over the sea, and Harris extended assurances that the US “will continue to work with Vietnam to push back against threats to freedom of navigation and the rules-based international order.”
The US “intends to strength its participation with its allies [and] further strengthen its interests” in the region, she asserted.
“We will be coming back, time and time again, with the spirit of an understanding that it is mutually benefit,” the US vice president said.
The US has formed a security alliance called the Quad – with Australia, Japan, and India as the three other members – to counter China’s expanding economic and military influence in the region.
Boost for US-Vietnam ties
On the US’ bilateral relations with Vietnam, Harris said the two countries are working together on “smart agriculture” and Hanoi has responded “positively” on the issue of reducing tariffs on American agricultural goods.
When asked about alleged human rights abuses in Vietnam, Harris said: “We need to speak up, when necessary, about the human rights issues and we will continue to do that.”
She said the matter was discussed with Vietnamese officials and civil society leaders “because it is a real concern for the US.”
“We are not going to shy away from difficult conversations,” said Harris.