Vice President Kamala Harris It leaves for Thailand and the Philippines on Wednesday to pitch the US as the Indo-Pacific’s “best partner” for economic stability amid China’s push to expand its own influence in the region. The vice president’s visit comes on the heels of President Joe Biden’s weeklong trip to the same region as he sought to assert American leadership abroad.
The vice president will attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders’ summit, hold bilateral meetings with Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and Philippine President Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos, and will meet with other leaders, local activists and notable women to reaffirm the US economic commitment to Indo-Pacific and Southeast Asia.
“This work builds on the president’s current and ongoing trip to Southeast Asia,” a senior administration official told reporters on a briefing call, describing the back-to-back visits. “And when you put the two together, I think it shows a deepening of our commitment to this region. And the effort by both the president and the vice president to strengthen our partnerships in the region and invest in their critical institutions.”
Harris is visiting the region after Biden returns to Washington, DC, for his granddaughter’s wedding.
She will double down on “economic growth and standing up for American workers and business” as key themes throughout her trip, the second trip to the region during her time in office.
The vice president will also visit the Philippine island of Palawan next week during her trip to Asia, a senior administration official told CNN. It’s a move that could create tension with China due to its proximity to the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. The official said that Harris, who will visit Palawan next Tuesday, will be the highest-ranking US official to visit the island.
Reuters he was the first to report Harris’s visit.
Harris, the first vice president of US South Asia, lands in Bangkok local time on Thursday and will participate in leadership retreats for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Leaders’ Meeting on Friday and Saturday.
“It will set out the key principles that we believe should guide the APEC economies and rally other economies around our vision for the future of the rules-based international economic order,” the senior administration official said.
The vice president is likely to meet the leaders on the sidelines of the summit, but the senior administration official did not say whether Harris would meet with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who will attend.
Biden held a three-hour talk with his Chinese counterpart on Monday, their first meeting in person since Biden took office and an opportunity both sides seemed to hope would lead to an improvement in rapidly deteriorating relations. The meeting, which Biden later called “open and candid,” appeared to ease some tensions between the competing nations.
But on Friday, Harris will cast the US as the region’s “best partner” when he delivers remarks at the APEC CEOs summit.
“There is no better partner for the Indo-Pacific economies and businesses than the United States of America,” said the senior administration official. Harris’ comments will refer to the Biden administration’s Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity, released earlier this year, which covers supply chains, weather, chip manufacturing and more.
“When you put it all together, frankly, we think it tells a very positive story with significant resources being brought to the table. We know that there is a strong demand for a greater economic presence from the United States. And the vice president will make it clear that we have responded to the call for that greater economic presence,” added the senior administration official.
Harris’s bilateral with Thailand’s Prayut arrives on Saturday and will focus on “the climate crisis and economic development by accelerating the clean energy transition.” More results are expected from new initiatives and funding.
And the official said they expect the vice president to speak on Myanmar, a topic Biden emphasized on his trip to Cambodia and Indonesia.
On Sunday, the vice president will convene a climate and energy roundtable with a notable focus on the Mekong region alongside environmental activists before flying to Manila.
On Monday, Harris will hold a meeting with her Philippine counterpart Sara Vicenta Zimmerman Duterte-Carpio ahead of her bilateral with President Marcos to reaffirm defense commitments.
“The vice president will reaffirm our defense commitments to the Philippines and the importance of our partnership in peace and stability in the South China Sea. They will discuss upholding international rules and norms,” the senior administration official said.
Later Monday, Harris will participate in moderated conversation with an audience of young Filipino women, continuing her efforts to meet women while traveling abroad.
Finally, Harris will travel to Puerto Princesa in Palawan to meet with “residents, civil society leaders and representatives of the Philippine Coast Guard,” the senior administration official said. And he will “reiterate the importance of international law, unimpeded trade and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.”
Beijing claims control of almost the entire South China Sea. China’s claims there extend almost to the Philippines and include disputed island groups like the Spratly Islands.
But, as CNN previously reported, Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines also have claims in the Spratly chain, where China has transformed dark reefs and shoals into artificial, man-made islands, fortified with missiles, landing strips and weapons systems.
“This visit demonstrates the Biden Harris administration’s commitment to standardizing our Philippine ally in upholding rules-based international maritime seas, supporting maritime livelihoods, and fighting unregulated and unregulated illegal fishing. declared,” the official said.
Harris will also make remarks “underlining the importance of trade unimpeded by international law and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.”
“China can get the message it wants,” the senior administration official said of Harris’s weeklong trip.
“The message to the region is that the United States is a member of the Indo-Pacific. We are committed. We are committed to the security of our allies in the region,” they added. “We are a friend and a partner. So it’s a positive agenda for us rather than a negative about competing with anyone else.”
This story has been updated with additional information.