A recent opinion piece in CGTN, an international English-language news service based in Beijing owned by the Chinese state media, pointed out that last week’s visit from United States Vice President Kamala Harris puts not only Singapore but also Vietnam in an “awkward situation.”
Ms Harris visited Singapore from Aug 22 to 24, and Vietnam from Aug 24 to 26, her second solo overseas trip after assuming office in Jan of this year. Her trip was widely perceived to underline the US’ commitment to Southeast Asia to counterbalance China’s growing influence in the region.
Indeed, the US Vice President’s sharp words of rebuke toward China made the news all over the world.
“We know that Beijing 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,” Ms Harris said, calling China’s claims “unlawful” and adding that they had been “rejected by the 2016 arbitral tribunal decision.”
In his opinion piece in CGTN published on Sunday (Aug 29), London-based foreign affairs analyst Adriel Kasonta underlined how Ms Harris’ words and actions in Southeast Asia may make things dicey for Singapore and Vietnam.
Mr Kasonta writes, “Unfortunately, despite claiming that the U.S. ‘engagement in Southeast Asia and the Indo-Pacific is not against any one country, nor is it designed to make anyone choose between countries,’ Kamala Harris accused Beijing, in the very same speech delivered in Gardens by the Bay, of ‘coercion and intimidation’” while on her visit to Vietnam called the country to back Washington against China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea.”
In Vietnam, the US Vice President had also “expressed support for sending an additional U.S. Coast Guard cutter to Vietnam to help defend its security interests in the region and embraced elevating the relationship with Vietnam from a comprehensive partnership to a strategic partnership,” he added.
However, Mr Kasonta also writes that Southeast Asian countries do not want to “pick sides” in the ongoing tensions between the US and China out of concern for development and security in the region.
“Moreover, Asia Pacific states are increasingly locked into tight trade relationships with Beijing through the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, signed in November last year. It would be foolish to harm their trade relations with their neighbor and the prime economic engine of the region’s success.”
Added to this is the “messy end to the inglorious war in Afghanistan” witnessed around the globe last week, and which drew comparisons with the withdrawal of the U.S. troops from Saigon in 1975, which now puts Singapore and Vietnam in an awkward situation, he writes.
“All the countries in the region would be well-advised to remember that 46 years ago, the U.S. pulled out from Vietnam, leaving the region divided and vulnerable, with a devastating conflict lasting for another 15 years in Cambodia, which ASEAN – founded in 1967 at the height of the Vietnam War – worked hard to put to an end,” Mr Kasonta added.
“Those who cannot read the present correctly are most probably doomed to share the same fate as the region, which the U.S. also tried to use to advance its self-serving economic and strategic interests and abandoned it without any hesitation once it became no longer profitable to stay there, leaving chaos, death, devastation and misery behind.”
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