Skip to main content

Advertisement

Advertisement

Kamala Harris criticises China’s actions in South China Sea, but says US is not asking others to pick sides

SINGAPORE — United States vice-president Kamala Harris on Tuesday (Aug 24) accused China of continuing to “coerce” and “intimidate” other countries over its claims in the South China Sea, while stressing that US engagements in this region are not designed to make anyone pick sides.

US vice-president Kamala Harris takes part in a roundtable at Gardens by the Bay in Singapore on Aug 24, 2021.

US vice-president Kamala Harris takes part in a roundtable at Gardens by the Bay in Singapore on Aug 24, 2021.

  • US vice-president Kamala Harris sharply criticised Beijing’s actions in the South China Sea
  • Beijing’s maritime claims are unlawful and it has coerced and intimidated others, she said
  • US engagement in the region is “not designed to make anyone choose between countries”, she added
  • She also condemned the “violent repression” occuring in Myanmar

 

SINGAPORE — United States vice-president Kamala Harris on Tuesday (Aug 24) accused China of continuing to “coerce” and “intimidate” other countries over its claims in the South China Sea, while stressing that US engagements in this region are not designed to make anyone pick sides.

In a speech on US foreign policy at the Gardens by the Bay on the final day of her three-day visit to Singapore, Ms Harris took aim at Beijing’s incursions into and claims in the South China Sea.

“We know that Beijing continues to coerce, to intimidate and to make claims to the vast majority of the South China Sea,” she said, noting that these claims have been deemed unlawful by a 2016 arbitration tribunal set up by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

“Beijing's actions continue to undermine the rules-based order and threaten the sovereignty of nations. The United States stands with our allies and partners in the face of these threats.”

At the same time, the US is not asking its partners to choose between the two superpowers, she added.

“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.

“Instead, our engagement is about advancing an optimistic vision that we have for our participation and partnership in this region, and our economic vision is a critical part of that.”

In 2019, the US conducted nearly US$2 trillion (S$2.71 trillion) in trade in the region and its exports support millions of jobs here, she said, adding that billions of dollars in trade flow through the sea lanes in Southeast Asia each day.

Ms Harris said that the US will “invest our time and our energy to fortify our key partnerships”, including those with Singapore and Vietnam, and added that the US is offering to host the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in 2023.

She also condemned the “violent repression” occuring in Myanmar, referring to the military coup and suppression of protests there, which led to hundreds of civilian deaths. 

“We are committed to supporting the people there, as they work to return their nation to the path of democracy, and we do hope that nations throughout the Indo-Pacific will join us in that effort.” 

The US vice-president is due to visit Vietnam after leaving Singapore later on Tuesday. 

The Gardens by the Bay event was broadcast live on news channel CNA and also streamed online by the US Embassy in Singapore in partnership with the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

In the audience were Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean and Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, as well as the US delegation that accompanied Ms Harris, among others.

Following Ms Harris’ remarks, three senior US security officials held a foreign policy dialogue with panel moderator Chan Heng Chee, the former Singapore ambassador to the US. 

Prof Chan quizzed the three senior US representatives on the panel about the increasing tensions between the US and China, stating that countries in Southeast Asia are closely watching the rising temperatures between the two superpowers.

Noting that past US foreign officials have said that the Pacific is “big enough for two powers”, Prof Chan asked the panellists about where the power equilibrium lies.

Dr Philip Gordon, deputy national security advisor to Ms Harris, said in response that the US rejects the notion that the conflict between the US and China is inevitable.

“We have a positive agenda in the region. There are differences with China — differences in principles and interests and we have to be clear about that. But we are not looking for a new Cold War,” Dr Gordon said.

Mr Edgard Kagan, the senior director for East Asia and Oceania at the US National Security Council, said that the US has noted “very significant changes in behaviour” from Beijing lately, including its border conflict with India, in the South China Sea, in its Xinjiang region, in Hong Kong as well as in the Taiwan Straits.

“We certainly do not see (conflict) as inevitable, but we do feel that competition is important and part of that is being very clear about what we are for, and not what we are against,” Mr Kagan said.

He reiterated that Ms Harris did not visit Singapore to ask regional countries to choose sides, but to strengthen partnerships and alliances to work towards a common purpose.

POST-AFGHANISTAN COMMITMENTS

In her speech, Ms Harris also touched on the issue of the US’ withdrawal from Afghanistan, acknowledging that “the eyes of many around the world” are on the country.

Repeating what she had said on Monday during a joint press conference with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Ms Harris said that US president Biden’s decision to end the 20-year war in Afghanistan was the right one and that the US is now “laser focused” on safely evacuating people from Kabul.

“We are grateful to our international partners for standing with us and working with us to meet this challenge, including Singapore,” she said.

Mr Lee had offered the use of a tanker aircraft to aid in the airlift of Americans and Afghans from the beleaguered Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.

During the panel discussion, Prof Chan questioned the senior security officials about what the US will do to show that it is committed to the region in light of the “unfortunate” incidents that have unfolded since the US withdrew its troops from Afghanistan.

Dr Gordon said that the fact that the US spent two decades in Afghanistan, worked with international partners including Singapore, spent more than a trillion US dollars and suffered the loss of military personnel lives there demonstrates that Washington's commitments are not a fleeting one.

“President (Biden) decided and acknowledged that these are hard decisions, but he made a courageous decision to put this to an end, in part, so that we can pursue our interests and focus on the things that matter to us, and that includes this region (of the Indo-Pacific),” he said.

“We understand why our interests are so great here, and you can expect a country like the US to pursue those interests which makes it a reliable partner,” Dr Gordon added.

Related topics

USA China South China Sea Kamala Harris Afghanistan diplomacy

Read more of the latest in

Advertisement

Popular

Advertisement

Stay in the know. Anytime. Anywhere.

Subscribe to get daily news updates, insights and must reads delivered straight to your inbox.

By clicking subscribe, I agree for my personal data to be used to send me TODAY newsletters, promotional offers and for research and analysis.