U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris on Tuesday warned that China poses a threat to countries in Asia, while reassuring nations in the region the U.S. won’t force countries to choose between the world’s biggest economies.
In a speech in Singapore, Harris spoke about the U.S. vision for a region built on rules, human rights, freedom of the seas and unimpeded commerce. She also offered for the U.S. to host the 2023 summit of the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, signifying the administration’s commitment to multilateral engagement.
In her most pointed comments aimed at Beijing, Harris accused China of coercion and intimidation over its vast territorial claims in the South China Sea. “Beijing’s actions continue to undermine the rules-based order and threaten the sovereignty of nations,” she said.
The vice president’s remarks, billed by the White House as a major foreign policy speech, echoed the themes of other administration officials who have sought to engage more with allies in a break from Donald Trump’s “America First” worldview. Harris said U.S. partnerships would now be “grounded in candor, openness, inclusiveness, shared interests and mutual benefits.”
“Our engagement in Southeast Asia and the Indo-Pacific is not against any one country, nor is it designed to make anyone choose between countries,” she added.
Singapore in particular has tried to balance its relationships with both Washington and Beijing, stressing that it wouldn’t want to choose sides between the two competing superpowers.
Symone Sanders, a spokesperson for the vice president, told Bloomberg Television that Harris’ comments on China were “one piece of the broader agenda.”
“Frankly, if that’s what we’re focusing on it doesn’t speak to the real vision that the vice president laid out today,” Sanders said.
Harris opened her speech by talking about Afghanistan, defending President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw as “courageous and right” while saying the U.S. was “laser-focused” on evacuating U.S. citizens and vulnerable Afghans.
After her remarks, Harris joined a roundtable to discuss supply chains with government officials and executives from companies including BlackRock Inc., GlobalFoundries Inc., 3M Co., United Parcel Service Inc., Procter & Gamble Co. and Temasek Holdings Pte, Singapore’s state-owned investment company.
Harris’s meeting with industry representatives comes amid a global shortage of semiconductors and other critical goods that have upended supply chains and caused production delays for many sectors. GlobalFoundries, a U.S.-based semiconductor company that participated in the roundtable, announced plans to invest $4 billion in a new facility in Singapore.
While the Biden administration has sought to increase domestic semiconductor production, so far it has struggled to alleviate the supply crunch. Since taking office, the White House has engaged with industries that produce and use the chips in an effort to increase transparency in the supply chain.
During the roundtable, Harris said the delta variant has forced manufacturers around the globe to adjust production and reassess their workforce.
“I’ve discussed this issue with many labor leaders in the United States who are concerned not only about workplace safety as it relates to the pandemic but also about layoffs because of the reduced production lines,” Harris said.
Harris will leave for Vietnam later on Tuesday, the second and final stop on her trip.
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