U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris called on Vietnam to support the United States’ efforts to confront China’s “bullying” in the South China Sea on Aug. 25, a day after she outlined the Biden administration’s foreign policy plan for the Indo–Pacific region in a speech in Singapore.
Harris also announced a new COVID-19 vaccine donation to Vietnam, in an apparent effort to counter China’s vaccine diplomacy.
“We need to find ways to pressure and raise the pressure, frankly, on Beijing to abide by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and to challenge its bullying and excessive maritime claims,” Harris said at the start of her meeting with Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc at Vietnam’s Presidential Palace in Hanoi.
The United States would “maintain a strong presence in the South China Sea” to confront China, Harris said.
Harris is currently on the second stop of her Asia trip, after concluding a three-day visit to Singapore before arriving in Vietnam on the night of Aug. 24. She also met with Vietnam’s Vice President Vo Thi Anh Xuan on Aug. 25.
Harris is scheduled to leave Vietnam on Aug. 26.
She also criticized China’s maritime behavior in her speech in Singapore, saying that Chinese actions have amounted to “coercion” and “intimidation.” Those actions “undermine the rules-based order and threaten the sovereignty of nations,” she said.
Beijing has taken on aggressive tactics to stake its claims in the South China Sea, despite a 2016 international arbitration ruling invalidating China’s territorial assertion. Those tactics include sending maritime militia and law enforcement vessels to prevent fishermen from other countries from accessing fishing grounds in the disputed waters, as well as sending research and survey ships into nearby nations’ exclusive economic zones.
Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam all face territorial disputes with China in the sea.
Chinese Regime Propaganda
Harris’s Asia trip comes at a time when the communist regime in China is aggressively challenging U.S. leadership around the world. The regime has recently launched a propaganda campaign to discredit the United States as a reliable ally and partner based on the tumultuous U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.
State-run China Daily, in an editorial published on Aug. 24, accused Washington of seeing any partner as “expendable.” The article also accused Harris of making a “baseless attack” against China in her speech in Singapore and said she was trying to “drive a wedge” between Beijing and the countries of Southeast Asia.
China is also trying to gain geopolitical sway by leveraging its COVID-19 vaccine diplomacy, despite concerns about the effectiveness of Chinese vaccines. According to Beijing-based research firm Bridge Consulting, about 70 percent of all of China’s vaccine donations have gone to countries in the Asia Pacific.
On Aug. 24, before Harris arrived in Hanoi, Vietnam Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh held a meeting with China’s ambassador to Vietnam, during which the latter said Beijing would donate 2 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to Hanoi. Chinh also told the Chinese ambassador that Hanoi wouldn’t align itself with one country against another.
Also on Aug. 24, Vietnam’s Ministry of National Defense received 200,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine from its Chinese counterpart, according to Vietnamese media. Sinopharm and Sinovac are both manufactured by Chinese vaccine makers.
Harris, while meeting with Chinh on Aug. 25, announced that the United States will donate an additional 1 million Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine doses to Vietnam. According to the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi, the U.S. vaccines will arrive within a day, half of them going to Hanoi and the other half to Ho Chih Minh City. The new donation brings the total U.S. vaccine donation to Vietnam to 6 million doses.
Vietnam has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the world. As of Aug. 24, only 1.9 percent of Vietnam’s population has been fully vaccinated, according to Our World in Data.
New CDC Office
Vietnam has been hit hard by the Delta variant of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus and the cause of COVID-19, following a cluster of infections tied to a church in Ho Chi Minh City. On Aug. 24, Vietnamese health officials reported 10,811 new infection cases, bringing the national total to 369,367.
The United States will also provide Vietnam with $23 million in aid to help Hanoi combat COVID-19, expand distribution and access to vaccines, and prepare for future disease threats.
Harris also announced the launch of a new regional office of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The new Southeast Asia office in Hanoi will be one of four CDC regional offices around the world.
“Through this office, we will work closely with our regional partners to share strategies and strengthen each other’s ability to prevent, detect, and respond to infectious disease threats, today and in the future,” U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra said in a statement.
Harris is also scheduled to take part in a health security event with health ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations on Aug. 25.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.