At the conclusion of a weeklong trip through Asia, Vice President Harris will make a trip to the disputed South China Sea’s edge on Tuesday, which may cause Beijing to become agitated.
According to a senior administration official who spoke anonymously under conditions set by the White House, Harris, the highest-ranking American representative to visit the Philippine archipelago, which is known as a beautiful tropical getaway, will meet with local fishermen to discuss the effects of the climate crisis and illegal fishing on coastal communities.
The Philippines has lodged diplomatic protests against China’s maritime activities in the South China Sea as local fishing communities have reported declining fish availability and displacement from their traditional fishing grounds amid hostilities from the Chinese coast guard. China has staked a claim on the majority of the South China Sea.
An international tribunal’s 2016 decision that China’s claims lack legal support gave Manila a victory, but Beijing has chosen to disregard the decision.
Harris is carrying out the delicate diplomatic mission at a time when U.S. tensions are rising over trade, Taiwan, human rights, and other issues, signaling U.S. support for the Philippines in the dispute. Although President Biden and President Xi Jinping recently met, the two superpowers are still keeping an eye on one another.
As he spoke to Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in front of the media on Monday, Harris said, “We stand with you in defense of international rules and norms as it relates to the South China Sea.” “An armed attack on public aircraft or vessels operated by the Philippines Armed Forces in the South China Sea would trigger U.S. commitments to mutual defense. And we have a firm commitment to the Philippines in that regard.
After serving as vice president for two years, Harris also wants to increase her political and diplomatic profile. Harris is attempting to establish a following as Biden’s heir apparent in the face of potential Democratic challengers as Biden has hinted, he will announce a reelection bid early next year but has not made a final decision.
Harris’s week-long trip to Thailand and the Philippines comes to an end with the visit. During a two-day summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation in Bangkok, which was primarily concerned with supply-chain and security issues, Harris met with other world leaders, including Xi. Harris addressed business executives outside of APEC about the U.S. contribution to the region’s economic growth.
After North Korea launched an intercontinental ballistic missile that touched down close to Japan, she also called for an urgent meeting of the leaders of Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, denouncing the launch as a “brazen violation of multiple U.N. Security resolutions.”
The importance of maintaining “open lines of communication available” was emphasized during Harris’ conversation with Xi, according to Harris, who added that it was similar to the three-hour conversation President Biden had with his Chinese counterpart outside of the Group of 20 summit in Bali, Indonesia.
Furthermore, complicating matters are the territorial claims made by Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam.
The Biden administration is attempting to establish a stronger relationship with Asian nations in order to counter China’s influence, and Harris’ outreach to the Philippines is just one aspect of this. According to a White House representative, she went to Palawan in an effort to emphasize how important it is for all nations to uphold international law.
Harris was jokingly told by Marcos that she was vacationing in Palawan. He remarked, “I’m sure you’re just visiting the resorts and the beaches.” That is not the life I’ve chosen these days, Harris retorted with a laugh.
The Biden administration is interested in additional locations under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which gives the United States access to Philippine military bases like Palawan’s Antonio Bautista Air Base, according to Harris’ Monday announcement. A civilian nuclear agreement between the United States and the Philippines will also be negotiated, according to the White House.
When asked if Harris’s trip to Palawan might be viewed as provocative by Beijing, Marcos played down that possibility.
“It’s very clearly on the Philippine territory,” he told reporters at APEC, according to local reports. “I don’t think it will cause problems.”