In the statement, made by The White House on 30 June 2021, the United States (US) Vice President Kamala Harris will visit Singapore and Vietnam, which are two important partners of USA in the Indo-Pacific, and it was stated that issues such as regional security, the struggle against Covid-19 outbreak, climate change and the encouragement of a rules-based international order will be discussed in these meetings.
As it will be remembered, United States Deputy Secretary of State, Wendy R. Sherman visited Indonesia, Thailand, and Cambodia in May 2021. In July, of the same year, United States Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin went to Singapore, Vietnam, and the Philippines. Following these steps, the visit made by Harris is very significant. In this sense, Harris’s tour of the region contains some messages in terms of the USA.
As it is known, the interest of the USA in the Indo-Pacific area has been increasing since the period of Barack Obama. The trade wars that started against China during the Donald Trump period made this attention even more clear. The importance that Washington attaches to the region continues in line with the goal of geopolitical surround after Joe Biden became the USA President. This region, where commercial, military, and diplomatic activity is experienced intensely, is the most critical area where the USA-China rivalry takes place. For this reason, the value of the countries in the region has been increasing day by day. The frequency of US officials’ visits to Southeast Asian countries is also due to the goal of bringing allies to the front that they want to form against China.
Harris’s last trip has another meaning in special. Undoubtedly, Washington’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan and the images of events that are experienced at Kabul Airport weakened the image of the USA in the eyes of its allies. For this reason, Harris’s going to the region very soon after Austin, intended to convey the message that “We are here now.” to the Indo-Pacific countries.
Beijing’s growing power in recent years reached its peak in the period of Xi Jinping. In this period, China aims to build an army suitable for its security and global vision by starting a rapid modernization process, especially in the military field. In addition, China, which makes economic investments in many parts of the world with the Belt-Road Project, provides political benefits through its economic power. Against this, the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” discourse in the USA’s strategy to reduce the influence of China and the surrounding of this country, emerges as the concept of the “New Cold War” on the Washington-Beijing line. As a matter of fact, the main narrative that Harris emphasized in her last visit was shaped by the emphasis on “Free and Open Indo-Pacific”.
Within the scope of the aforementioned strategy, the USA seeks ways to improve its relations with the countries of the region. Its traditional allies comprising Japan, Australia, and India seem willing to join the front against China. These countries have come together with the formation of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) in recent years and have demonstrated a strong will by meeting at the Presidency level in 2021.
Singapore and Vietnam, the two countries that Harris went to Southeast Asia trip, are essential actors in terms of Indo-Pacific strategy. Although it is a small island country, Singapore, which controls the transition route of the Strait of Malacca that is one of the most strategic points in the world, provides geographical control of hydrocarbons going to China and commercial cargo ships coming from this country. For this reason, Singapore has an important place among the alliances established against China.
Vietnam, on the other hand, opposes China’s “9-Dash Line” strategy with its geographical presence in the South China Sea. In addition, Vietnam-USA trade relations have been increasing rapidly in recent years. The trade ratio of The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries to the USA by sea transport, constitute to 21.9% of the total imports of the USA by sea transport. Vietnam alone meets 10.8% of this rate. At this point, considering the discussions that started in the USA on the issue of shifting the supply chain connected on China, it can be said that ASEAN countries are considered as an alternative against China.
In the current situation, the Washington administration, which wants to limit China’s economic power, desires to increase its investments in the region. In 2019, the USA became ASEAN’s second largest trade partner with a capacity of $294.7 billion. According to the data of the same year, the USA is in the lead with an investment of 338 billion dollars to ASEAN Countries.
The following statement by Harris in Singapore clearly demonstrated the Washington administration’s desire to increase its economic presence in the region:
“I am proud to announce that the United States is offering to host APEC in 2023. Through APEC, or the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum, the United States has long worked with our partners in Asia and Latin America to build an interconnected region that advances our collective economic prosperity.”
The USA’s withdrawal from Afghanistan and its growing interest in the Indo-Pacific region signals a new area chosen for the struggle for global leadership. The region has emerged as the geography where the competition between the USA and China has become the hottest in recent years. For this reason, US officials frequently visit the states of the region. The purpose of the visits in question is to ensure that the countries of the region stands by the side of the West against China. For this reason, the disputes in the South China Sea, where regional capitals have problems with Beijing, are frequently emphasized by Washington and presented as an example of China’s expansionist policy. This issue has also highlighted in Harris’s statements.
As a result, the Washington administration leaving from the strategy of “surrounding Asia from the center”, which it had initiated years ago, directed to the policy of “surrounding Asia from the seas”. Also, the naval and air power of the USA has a clear advantage over its rival China in the struggle for global leadership. Within the aforementioned strategy, the USA; is trying to make ASEAN countries its allies in addition to its traditional allies such as Japan, Australia, and India. Therefore, it can be predicted that the visits of US officials to the region will increasingly continue.
 “Statement From Senior Advisor and Chief Spokesperson Symone Sanders on Vice President Kamala Harris’s Upcoming Visit to Singapore and Vietnam”, White House, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/07/30/statement-from-senior-advisor-and-chief-spokesperson-symone-sanders-on-vice-president-kamala-harriss-upcoming-visit-to-singapore-and-vietnam/, (Date of Accession: 27.08.2021).
 David Brunnstrom, Michael Martina, “Biden to Meet Virtually with Leaders of Japan, India, Australia”, Reuters, https://www.reuters.com/article/usa-biden-quad-idUSKBN2B21V7, (Date of Accession: 28.08.2021).
 “ASEAN Share of US-Bound Container Shipping Reaches 20%”, Hellenic Shipping News, https://www.hellenicshippingnews.com/asean-share-of-us-bound-container-shipping-reaches-20/, (Date of Accession: 28.08.2021).
 “ASEAN Statistical Year Book 2020”, ASEAN, s. 57
 “Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)”, The Office of the United States Trade Representative, https://ustr.gov/countries-regions/southeast-asia-pacific/association-southeast-asian-nations-asean, (Date of Accession: 28.08.2021).
 “Remarks by Vice President Harris on the Indo-Pacific Region”, The White House, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2021/08/24/remarks-by-vice-president-harris-on-the-indo-pacific-region/, (Date of Accession: 28.08.2021).