Vice President Kamala Harris leaves for Thailand and the Philippines on Wednesday to cast the US as the Indo-Pacific’s “better partner” for economic stability amid China’s push to expand its own influence in the region. The vice president’s visit follows President Joe Biden’s week-long trip to the same region, where he sought to assert US 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 other leaders, local activists and notable women to reaffirm US economic commitment to the Indo-Pacific and Southeast Asia.
“This work builds on the president’s current and ongoing journey in Southeast Asia,” a senior government official told reporters in a briefing call, describing the successive visits. “And when you put the two together, I think it shows a deepening of our commitment to this region. And the efforts of both the President and Vice President to strengthen our alliances in the region and invest in critical institutions.”
Harris visits the region after Biden returns to Washington, DC, for his granddaughter’s wedding.
During her trip, the second trip to the region during her tenure, she will promote “economic growth and advocate for American workers and businesses.”
The vice president will also visit the Philippine island of Palawan next week on her trip to Asia, a senior government official told CNN. It is a move that could cause tension with China due to its proximity to the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. The official said Harris, who will visit Palawan next Tuesday, will be the highest-ranking US official to ever visit the island.
Reuters was the first to report on Harris’s visit.
Harris, the US’s first South Asian Vice President, will land in Bangkok local time on Thursday and will participate in leadership retreats for Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Leaders on Friday and Saturday.
“She will outline key principles we believe should guide APEC economies and rally other economies around our vision for the future of the rules-based international economic order,” the senior government official said.
The vice president is likely to hold meetings with leaders on the fringes of the summit, but the senior government official would not say whether Harris will meet Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who is scheduled to attend.
Biden held a three-hour talk with his Chinese counterpart on Monday, their first face-to-face meeting since Biden took office and an opportunity that both sides seemed to hope would lead to an improvement in rapidly deteriorating relations. The meeting, which Biden afterwards called “open and candid,” appeared to ease tensions between the competing nations.
But on Friday, Harris will bring up the US as the region’s “better partner” when she makes comments at the APEC CEO summit.
“There is no better partner for the economies and businesses of the Indo-Pacific than the United States of America,” the senior government official said. Harris’ remarks will touch on the Biden administration’s Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity, launched earlier this year, which covers supply chains, climate, chip manufacturing and more.
“When you add it all up, we honestly think it tells a really positive story with significant resources being brought to the table. We know that there is a strong demand for more economic presence by the United States. And the vice president will make it clear that we have heeded the call for that greater economic presence,” the senior government official added.
Harris’ bilateral with Thailand’s Prayut is due Saturday and will focus on “climate crisis and economic development by accelerating the clean energy transition.” More results from new initiatives and funding are expected.
And the official said they expect the vice president to talk about Myanmar, a topic Biden highlighted while touring Cambodia and Indonesia.
On Sunday, the vice president will convene a climate and energy roundtable with environmentalists, with a special focus on the Mekong region, before flying to Manila.
On Monday, Harris will meet with Philippine counterpart Sara Vicenta Zimmerman Duterte-Carpio ahead of her bilateral talks with President Marcos to reaffirm defense commitments.
“The Vice President will reaffirm our defense commitments to the Philippines and the importance of our alliance for peace and stability in the South China Sea. They will discuss enforcing international rules and standards,” the senior official said.
Later on Monday, Harris will join the moderated conversation with an audience of young Filipino women as she continues her efforts to meet women while traveling abroad.
Finally, Harris will travel to Puerto Princesa in Palawan to meet “residents, civil society leaders and representatives of the Philippine Coast Guard,” the senior official noted. And she will “reiterate the importance of international law, unfettered trade and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.”
Beijing claims control of almost all of the South China Sea. China’s claims there extend almost all the way to the Philippines and include groups of disputed islands such as the Spratly Islands.
But, as CNN previously reported, Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines also have claims in the Spratly chain, where China has transformed obscure reefs and sandbars into artificial man-made islands reinforced with missiles, airstrips and weapons systems.
“This visit demonstrates the commitment of the Biden Harris Administration to standardize our Philippine ally in enforcing the rules-based international maritime sea, supporting marine livelihoods and countering illegal unregulated, unreported fishing,” the official said. .
Harris will also make remarks “underlining the importance of international law for unfettered trade and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.”
“China can deliver whatever message it wants,” the senior government official said of Harris’s week-long trip.
“The message to the region is that the United States is a member of the Indo-Pacific. We are engaged. We are committed to the security of our allies in the region,” she added. “We are a friend and a partner. And so it’s a positive agenda for us rather than kind of a negative one about competing with someone else.
This story has been updated with additional information.