Aug 24, 2021 / 22:30

Harris visits Vietnam: What to expect?

Vaccines, regional security, and climate change are expected to be discussed during the trip.

US Vice President Kamala Harris's trip to South East Asia signals the Biden administration’s priority to Vietnam and Singapore as main partners in the region, analysts told The Hanoi Times, as Washington seeks to boost its engagement in Southeast Asia.
 US Vice President Kamala Harris. Photo: Whitehouse

Harris is the most senior US official to visit the region since President Joe Biden took office in January. She will be the first US vice president to visit the country and depart next Thursday.

The US to broaden cooperation

According to Professor Larry Berman from Georgia State University, Harris’ choice to visit Vietnam so shortly after Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s visit shows the Biden administration’s priority strengthening the comprehensive partnership with Vietnam and avoiding any potential misunderstandings in the transition from Trump to Biden policy.

“Vietnam plays a critical and pivotal role in the US policy towards Asia. Ever since he assumed office, the Biden administration has identified Vietnam as a pivotal country in its overall strategy”, Larry Berman wrote in an email to The Hanoi Times about the trip.

He cited the March Interim National Security Strategic Guidance report that identified the US role in South East Asia and Indo-Pacific, which show that Vietnam and Singapore are key countries in this vision.

Meanwhile, Vietnam-US relations have gone from strength to strength, growing ever more multifaceted and deeper, said Dr. Nicholas Chapman from International Japan University.

The US has closed an investigation into currency manipulation that was started under President Trump and donated over five million doses of the vaccine to Vietnam. During Austin’s visit, Vietnam and the US signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the US's assistance in locating and identifying the remains of missing Vietnamese soldiers from the war, according to Chapman.

What’s on the discussing table?

In Hanoi, Vietnam, Vice President Kamala Harris is scheduled to meet with leaders including President Nguyen Xuan Phuc and Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh and attend the launching of a regional office for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, among other activities. 

At the discussion, Vietnamese and the US leaders would touch on three main areas: regional security, Covid-19, and climate change, Chapman said.  

“On the regional security front, I expect a heavy emphasis on fostering a rules-based international order”, the analyst said, citing that the US and China have traded barbs with each other at the UN.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken has stated that it is critical "to defend the rules that we’ve all agreed to follow, and peacefully resolve maritime disputes.” These have been welcome words to Vietnamese leaders as Vietnam is firmly committed to those principles.

The Biden administration's policy on security in the South China Sea (which Vietnam calls East Sea) would be conveyed through Harris’ trip also, he added.

On a broader view, Larry Berman believes the two countries’ leaders can address burning and traditional issues including vaccines, medical support, trade cooperation and investment, regional issues, free and open Indo-Pacific, copyright protections, human rights. “There will not be agreement on all of these, but Harris will want to address them”, the US professor noted.