HANOI – Vice President Kamala Harris said on Thursday the United States would work with its allies to protect women and children in Afghanistan, as the Taliban takeover forced her to face troubling historical parallels and diverted attention from his original mission on a five-day trip. to Southeast Asia.
“There is no doubt that all of us paying attention are concerned about this problem in Afghanistan,” said Harris, referring to the protection of women and children in that country.
The vice president made her comments in the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi, on the last day of her trip to Southeast Asia, a key part of the Biden administration’s strategy to forge partnerships in the region and refocus politics. foreigner on the competition with the growing influence of China.
For Ms Harris, the trip was an opportunity to assert herself on the world stage after her first overseas trip to Central America, which focused on tackling the root causes of migration, was marred by political backlash against the Biden administration’s response to the skyrocketing southwest border crossings.
Ms Harris has faced the challenge of reassuring her partners in Asia and around the world that the United States can still be a credible ally amid the Taliban’s rapid takeover of Afghanistan and random evacuations. the United States.
As the Biden administration rushes to meet the August 31 deadline to leave Afghanistan, the situation in Kabul has cast a shadow over a trip intended to focus on public health, supply chain issues and economic partnerships.
In Singapore, whether in meeting with city-state leaders or on her orchid tour after a high-stakes foreign policy speech, Ms. Harris has consistently faced questions about the withdrawal, the future of human rights in Afghanistan and the fate of those who risked their lives to aid US troops in the 20 Years War.
In Hanoi, the pressure has not eased – especially after the world witnessed images of desperate Afghans rushing behind US military planes, making comparisons to the US evacuation from Vietnam in 1975.
On Thursday, Ms Harris did not respond directly to whether the Americans were safer now than they had been before the withdrawal from Afghanistan. Instead, she touted the administration’s evacuation effort, which has rapidly escalated in recent days.
Biden administration officials said they had evacuated tens of thousands of people since August 14, the day before Kabul fell to the Taliban. Most Americans have been evacuated, although tens of thousands of Afghan allies will almost certainly be left behind after the August 31 deadline.
During her trip, Harris remained on the message, stressing that the administration was “singularly focused” on the evacuation of the remaining US citizens and Afghan allies.
His flight to Hanoi from Singapore was delayed by three hours on Tuesday due to what the US Embassy in Vietnam described as a possible “abnormal health incident”. This is the language the Biden administration uses to refer to the so-called Havana Syndrome. – the unexplained headaches, dizziness and memory loss reported by dozens of State Department officials, CIA officers and their families in various countries. When asked about the report, Ms Harris only said officials were reviewing it.
Understanding the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan
Who are the Taliban? The Taliban emerged in 1994 amid the unrest following the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989. They used brutal public punishments, including flogging, amputations and mass executions, to enforce their rules. Here’s more on their origin story and their record as leaders.
Ms Harris used the trip to Southeast Asia not only to forge partnerships on climate change, cybersecurity and the pandemic, but also to provide her most direct comments to date on Beijing.
Beijing and Washington both viewed Southeast Asia as a region of economic and geopolitical importance. Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam have all accused China of building and fortifying man-made islands in the South China Sea and sending ships to intimidate their military and those who fish.
On Wednesday, Ms Harris offered to send aircraft carriers and a coast guard to Vietnam, in addition to a donation of one million doses of Covid-19 vaccine.
“When it comes to Beijing, let me be very clear,” she said. “We welcome fierce competition, we are not looking for conflict, but on issues like the one you raise, the South China Sea, we will speak out.”
Tension between the United States and China loomed over Ms. Harris’ entire trip – even when she was in the air. Beijing took advantage of its delayed flight to Hanoi to send an envoy to meet the Vietnamese prime minister and pledge to donate two million doses of coronavirus vaccines, double the US donation.
After the meeting, Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh declared that his country “does not ally with one country to fight against another,” according to Vietnamese state media.
“It’s striking,” said Aaron Connelly, a researcher at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Singapore. Chinese officials, he said, “think they have the edge and are trying to convey to their Southeast Asian counterparts that there will be costs involved in engaging with the United States. United “.