In a bid to create the impression that China is isolated in the region, the Joe Biden administration announced Vice-President Kamala Harris would visit Singapore and Vietnam late last month when at least three other senior US officials were visiting, or were to visit, the Indo-Pacific region.
Yet it was not until Friday that Harris departed, and what has happened in Afghanistan prior to that, due to the irresponsible and disastrous withdrawal of US forces from the country, will have unavoidably changed the tenor of her discussions and she will have to restore her hosts’ trust in the United States honoring any commitments it makes.
All the countries that the US is eager to draw to its side in its rivalry with China will likely have a similar takeaway from the situation in Afghanistan.
Harris will have a hard time persuading them that the US is a staunch friend and partner as it is clear that whenever the going gets tough the US will be gone, leaving its partners in the lurch without so much as a second thought.
While the Biden administration recognizes the prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region, it is well aware that the prosperity stems from the peace and stability in the region and countries’ close economic and trade cooperation with China.
As such, when Harris on Monday reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to work with regional countries on a rules-based order and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, she merely highlighted that it is the US that is stirring up trouble in the region, attempting to replace the United Nations Charters-based rules with rules of its own.
The high frequency, if not stubbornness, with which the Biden administration has been trying to close ranks with the Southeast Asian countries against China over the past few months only serves to expose the resistance it has encountered to these efforts.
Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has repeatedly expressed concerns about the region being forced into an either-or choice between the US and China. And his concerns have been echoed by other leaders in the region. That explains why some experts have reminded Harris to not make China a focal point in her meetings to avoid killing the talks.
Washington is not making friends in the region by trying to contain, smear and sanction their largest trade partner and neighbor.
But Harris will not return home empty-handed, as at least she will know from her trip that countries in the region want a new framework for the relations between the US and China that enable the two countries to develop areas of common interest, while constraining their disagreements.
Washington should bear in mind that East and Southeast Asia bore the brunt of the consequences of the US’ Cold War militarism, and the countries that it is trying to drag to its side have no desire to be its proxies in any repeat of the geostrategic games that led to that. Editorial, China Daily