WASHINGTON - United States Vice-President Kamala Harris will travel to Singapore and Vietnam next month to "strengthen relationships and expand economic cooperation with two critical Indo-Pacific partners of the United States", her spokesman announced on Friday (July 30).
"During the trip, the Vice-President will engage the leaders of both governments on issues of mutual interest, including regional security, the global response to the Covid-19 pandemic, climate change, and our joint efforts to promote a rules-based international order," Ms Symone Sanders said in a brief statement that did not mention dates.
"The Vice-President will also affirm and celebrate the strong cultural and people-to-people ties between the United States and these countries," she said.
US President Joe Biden and Vice-President Harris have made it a top priority to "rebuild our global partnerships and keep our nation secure, and this upcoming visit continues that work - deepening our engagement in South-east Asia", Ms Sanders added.
"Vice-President Harris will be the first vice-president to ever visit Vietnam."
This will be the 56-year-old Californian's first trip outside the Americas since she was sworn into office in January as the first female US vice-president. She is also the first person of colour (she is of Indian-Jamaican heritage) to hold the second-highest office in the country.
Though South-east Asia is not known to be Ms Harris' forte - she is a former prosecutor and was a senator from 2017 to 2020 - the visit comes close on the heels of the swing through the region by US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, who visited Singapore, the Philippines and Vietnam.
Ms Harris' visit affirms the strength of the relationship between the US and Singapore, said the press secretary to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in a statement on Friday.
The statement added that Ms Harris, who is visiting Singapore at the invitation of PM Lee, will meet Singapore leaders and discuss ways to deepen bilateral cooperation in multiple areas, including defence, cyber security and digital trade.
PM Lee said: "I am delighted to welcome Vice-President Harris on her first official visit to Singapore. I look forward to our discussions on strengthening bilateral cooperation and working together on global challenges such as the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change."
Ms Harris' visits showcase America's long-term commitment to a prosperous and secure South-east Asia, Dr Patrick Cronin, chair for Asia-Pacific security at the Hudson Institute in Washington, told The Straits Times.
"By visiting Singapore and Vietnam, Vice-President Harris can reinforce overlapping strategic interests in a stable, rules-based order with two of the region's most strategic countries," he said.
"Despite the obstacles of a pandemic, the White House fully intends to deliver on its promise to work more closely with its key partners on ending Covid-19, jump-starting economic growth, and tackling tomorrow's challenges such as climate change."
Dr Cronin added: "The US knows that Singapore's success remains a shining example for the region, and that Vietnam has tremendous potential to help drive the future economy."
Mr Curtis S. Chin, a former US ambassador to the Asian Development Bank, told ST that Ms Harris' trip "offers the US the chance to underscore ongoing American assistance to the region, including in the fight against Covid-19 through vaccine donations".
The trip "comes at an important time as nations continue to assess President's Biden policies and commitment to the Indo-Pacific region and especially to South-east Asia", he said.
"The backdrop for what is likely to be a very high-profile trip is both a worsening Covid-19 situation and ongoing tensions and rivalry with China."
Mr Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group, noted that Ms Harris was "increasingly becoming front person for the administration; they're being very careful with President Biden's health and schedule".