China state media says US V-P Kamala Harris seeking to divide Asia

US Vice President Kamala Harris and Vietnam's Vice President Vo Thi Anh Xuan at the Presidential Palace in Hanoi on Aug 25, 2021.
US Vice President Kamala Harris and Vietnam's Vice President Vo Thi Anh Xuan at the Presidential Palace in Hanoi on Aug 25, 2021.PHOTO: AFP

HANOI/SHANGHAI (REUTERS) - Chinese state media on Wednesday (Aug 25) accused US Vice-President Kamala Harris of seeking to drive a wedge between China and its South-east Asian neighbours with her comments that Beijing used coercion and intimidation to back its South China Sea claims.

Ms Harris made the comments in a speech in Singapore on Tuesday as part of a seven-day regional visit aimed at pivoting the United States back to Asia and countering China's growing influence.

"While pointing a finger at China and accusing it of 'coercion' and 'intimidation', Harris wilfully ignored her own hypocrisy in attempting to coerce and intimidate regional countries to join Washington in its scheme to contain China," the state-run China Daily said in an editorial.

Ms Harris' Singapore speech was a baseless attack on China, the editorial said. "It seems that the United States' only commitment to South-east Asia is its dedicated efforts to drive a wedge between the Southeast Asian nations and China."

The US administration has called rivalry with China "the biggest geopolitical test" of the century and South-east Asia has seen a series of high-profile visits by top administration officials, including Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin, who visited Hanoi in late July.

Ms Harris' arrival in Hanoi was delayed on Tuesday after the US Embassy in Vietnam said it had detected an "anomalous health incident", potentially related to the mysterious Havana syndrome.

During the delay, Vietnam's Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh and China's ambassador to Vietnam held a previously unannounced meeting, during which Mr Chinh said Vietnam does not take sides in foreign policy.

The Chinese ambassador promised a donation of 2 million Covid-19 vaccines during the meeting.

China is Vietnam's largest trading partner and Vietnam is heavily reliant on materials and equipment from China for its manufacturing activities.

Their ruling Communist Parties maintain close ties, but Vietnam and China have been embroiled in a long-standing dispute over maritime claims in the South China Sea, known as the East Sea in Vietnam.

China has established military outposts on artificial islands in the South China Sea, which is crossed by vital shipping lanes and contain gas fields and rich fishing grounds.

China, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan, lay claim to parts of the waters.

The tensions have propelled Vietnam into being one of the most vocal opponents of Beijing's claims in the disputed waterway and Hanoi has received US military hardware, including coastguard cutters.

Ties between Hanoi and Washington have grown closer more than four decades after the Vietnam War ended in 1975, although Washington has said there are limits to the relationship until Hanoi makes progress on human rights.

Analysts say Vietnam wants to upgrade its diplomatic relationship with the United States to a "strategic partnership" but is concerned such a move would anger Beijing.