Harris meets Singapore officials to start an Asia tour

Monday's announcement by the White House was a series new agreements between Singapore and the United States. These agreements are aimed at combating cyberthreats and tackling climate change.

Harris meets Singapore officials to start an Asia tour

These announcements are part of the Biden administration’s efforts to counter Chinese influence in the region.

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and the Treasury and Defense Departments have signed memorandums of understandings with each other to expand information sharing and training in cybersecurity.

The U.S.-Singapore Climate Partnership is a joint effort by the Departments of Commerce, Energy, Transportation, Treasury and their counterparts from Singapore. It aims to create new standards for climate and work together on projects that will increase clean energy infrastructure and sustainability.

They agreed to work more closely together to identify COVID-19 variants, and to collaborate in research on coronavirus treatments. The Department of Commerce and the Singapore Ministry of Trade and Industry have joined forces to form a partnership aimed at strengthening trade in a few key industries.

The White House announced that additional agreements were made between the two countries to foster cooperation in space exploration and defense matters. These announcements were made Monday, after Harris met with Singapore President Halimah Yancob and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Harris' Southeast Asia trip will take Harris to Singapore and Vietnam later this week. It is intended to strengthen cooperation between the two countries to counter China's increasing influence in the region.

Harris took part in a welcome ceremony at the Istana (the presidential palace), on Monday morning. A marching band performed the Star Spangled Banner while Harris held her hand. Then, Harris walked around the courtyard reviewing the band with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Loong showed Harris an orchid species that had been named in her honour, and Harris then made a short courtesy call to President Halimah Yacob before moving into a series bilateral meetings.

After the meetings, the vice-president will attend a joint news conference and then visit Changi Naval Base where she will speak with American sailors on the USS Tulsa.

Harris will give a speech Tuesday outlining the Biden administration’s vision for the region and meet with business leaders in order to discuss supply chain problems.

Harris will make this her second overseas trip, having previously visited Guatemala and Mexico in June. This will also be the first visit by a U.S. vice-president to Vietnam.

Singapore is the U.S. Navy's anchor in Southeast Asia. The country has a strong trade partnership with the U.S. but also seeks to keep strong ties with China, as well as a neutral position amid increasingly hostile U.S.-China relations.

The relations between the U.S.A and China have deteriorated dramatically under Donald Trump's predecessor. Both sides continue to be at odds over a variety of issues, including cybersecurity and human rights.

U.S. Secretary Antony Blinken, and U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin went on their first overseas visits to Japan and South Korea. Austin visited Singapore, Vietnam, and the Philippines last month. He pledged U.S. support for Beijing's invasions in the South China Sea.

Harris will likely stress the importance of a free and open Indo-Pacific area in her talks with Singapore's and Vietnam leaders.

Alexander Feldman, the president and CEO US-ASEAN Business council, stated that Harris must be mindful in her discussions with Singapore's leaders to not focus too much on China but instead to stress a positive, productive U.S. partnership with Singapore and Vietnam.

She could fall for a trap by trying to make this a China versus U.S. trip. Feldman stated that it should have been a U.S. visit to our Southeast Asia friends and partners.

He said that if China is the focal point of the region, it would make it more difficult for friends to move forward in the region, not just in Singapore and Vietnam, but also beyond.

In fact, Vivian Balakrishnan, Singapore's Foreign Minister, stated in a recent interview, that Singapore would "be useful, but we won't be made use" in its relations to both countries. The nation's prime minister has previously warned the U.S. not to pursue an aggressive approach towards China.

Beijing has however seized on Harris' visit. China's official Xinhua News Agency published an editorial Saturday describing Harris's trip as part of a drive against China.

Senior Biden officials have made visits to Southeast Asia to try to "woo these nations to form a circle of containment against China." Xinhua stated that the 'wishful plan of America' to take sides with China will fail because most countries in Southeast Asia are not willing to make this choice.

According to the editorial, the U.S. approach to China is based on "outdated Cold War thinking" and is meant to cause problems in their relations with China, create tension and confrontation, and create a ring for containment.

Harris will be navigating the complex diplomacy around China. However, Harris will also have to reassure key U.S. allies about America's commitment toward Southeast Asia in the wake the turbulent Afghanistan exit. There are many images of Afghans stealing American plans to leave Kabul, which have been compared to the aftermath of the fall of Saigon at end of Vietnam War.

Harris' aides made sure to stress that, while she is still deeply concerned about the Afghan situation, the Southeast Asia trip was planned long before these events. They also said Harris' work in Singapore, Vietnam, and other countries is important, regardless of developments in Afghanistan.

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