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South China Sea: Kamala Harris wants to “increase pressure on Beijing”


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Visiting Vietnam, US Vice President Kamala Harris said Wednesday she wanted to “increase pressure” on Beijing in the South China Sea, where China and its Southeast Asian neighbors have rival territorial claims. In the process, China replied that it would “oppose the deployment of US forces” in the region.

US Vice President Kamala Harris, visiting Vietnam to try to strengthen alliances with China, wants to “increase the pressure” on Beijing so that the Chinese authorities give up their “abusive” claims on the disputed sea waters from southern China.

“We must find ways to put pressure and increase the pressure, frankly, on Beijing (…) to question its abusive and excessive maritime claims” in this strategic area, said Wednesday Kamala Harris, during his meeting with the President of the Vietnamese Republic, Nguyen Xuan Phuc.

Beijing claims almost all of this sea, rich in resources and through which passes a large part of world maritime trade. Several Southeast Asian countries, including Vietnam, have competing claims.

>> To read also: “When France crisscrosses the China Sea in an attack submarine”

“The US Navy will maintain a strong presence in the South China Sea”, promised Kamala Harris, adding to want to “help Vietnam to develop its maritime security capabilities”, while Beijing is accused of deploying military equipment there, including missile launchers.

“China firmly opposes the deployment of forces (…) to intervene in regional affairs and disrupt regional peace and stability,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said. State accusing Washington of wanting to “drive a wedge” between the countries of Southeast Asia and Beijing. It was the second time in two days that the US Vice President had attacked China.

Tuesday, in Singapore, where she had started her Asian tour, she denounced Chinese attempts at “intimidation” in the region, Beijing responding by launching similar reproaches on the attitude of the United States in Afghanistan.

No stop in Ho Chi Minh City, former Saigon

Kamala Harris’ visit to Vietnam comes at a critical time for Washington. The fall of Kabul and the chaotic evacuations from the Afghan capital rekindled the trauma of the Vietnam War and the flight in 1975 of American diplomats from Saigon. Kamala Harris will not visit the city, the economic heart of the country renamed Ho Chi Minh City.

But as China disputes the United States for political influence and naval dominance in the Indo-Pacific region, Vietnam is strategically and economically important to Washington. Kamala Harris also tried to focus attention on health security during the inauguration Wednesday afternoon of a regional branch of the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

After successfully containing the coronavirus epidemic in 2020, Vietnam, like several countries in the region, is facing an unprecedented outbreak. The vaccination campaign is unfolding very slowly in the country with just under 2% of the approximately 100 million inhabitants fully vaccinated.

Kamala Harris on Wednesday announced a donation of one million vaccines that will start arriving in Vietnam within 24 hours. Washington has already given five million doses to the country.

No need to choose a side

The frigid relationship between Washington and Beijing will remain the focus of attention. The disputes are numerous, ranging from cybersecurity to the struggle for technological supremacy or human rights violations in Hong Kong and Xinjiang. And Joe Biden’s administration is essentially continuing the showdown started by Donald Trump.

The American vice-president is still trying to allay fears. In Singapore, she assured that these growing tensions should not force countries closely linked to the two economic powers to choose their side. Hanoi is also trying to forge its own path between Washington and Beijing.

>> To read also: “China under technological pressure from Washington”

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh met the Chinese ambassador, assuring that Vietnam would not line up “with one country against another”. Kamala Harris arrived in Hanoi on Tuesday evening three hours late due to an “abnormal health incident” in the Vietnamese capital.

This expression is generally used by Washington to designate the “Havana syndrome”, mysterious ailments detected five years ago in Cuba and which have since affected American diplomats in several countries. The phenomenon has given rise to allegations, as yet unproven, accusing Russia or other countries of having used high-intensity electronic devices to physically harm these diplomats.

With AFP

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