The visit of United States Vice-President Kamala Harris is an opportunity for the Biden administration to emphasise the centrality of South-east Asia in its ongoing engagement with the wider Indo-Pacific region, where it has important strategic and economic interests. It is just as crucial to convey, during her meetings in Singapore and Vietnam, and in her policy speech tomorrow, that Washington values the region for itself, and not just as a stage for geopolitical arm-wrestling between the US and China.
While the Biden administration's focus on South-east Asia appeared to have initially lagged behind its engagement with Europe and the Middle East, this August has, however, been a busy month for ties. Visits by Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken's virtual meetings with his Asean counterparts preceded her high-level trip. Expediting the appointment of an ambassador to Singapore - a post left vacant and with ties managed by a charge d'affaires since 2017 - would also be a welcome next step.