U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris delivers a speech at Gardens by the Bay in Singapore before departing for Vietnam on the second leg of her Asia trip (Photo: Reuters)
राजनीति

Kamala Harris pushes ahead with Vietnam trip despite possible Havana syndrome incident


SINGAPORE :

Vice President Kamala Harris temporarily delayed a flight from Singapore to Vietnam on Tuesday after her office was made aware of what the State Department called a “possible anomalous health incident” in Hanoi.

Government officials have used that language to describe what is more commonly called Havana Syndrome, a series of unexplained medical symptoms first experienced by State Department personnel stationed in Cuba beginning in late 2016.

After an assessment, the decision was made to continue the trip, the State Department said.

During the two-day trip to Singapore, Ms. Harris made the case for the U.S. to strengthen its economic ties with Southeast Asia, where she stressed the need to work with countries to ease supply-chain constraints as a surge of Covid-19 cases has hit factories in the region.

Ms. Harris said Tuesday she discussed the supply-chain problems extensively with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during their bilateral meetings. She also held a roundtable with business leaders in the country, which included representatives from chip maker GlobalFoundries Singapore Pte. Ltd., 3M Southeast Asia Pte. Ltd. and Procter & Gamble Co., to discuss ways to use the economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic as an opportunity to bolster supply-chain resiliency between the U.S. and the region.

“There’s so much in particular about the pandemic that highlighted the fractures, and the failures and the fissures in our system,” Ms. Harris said in the meeting. “And this moment gives us the opportunity then born out of crisis to actually fix and find solutions to long-term issues that have challenged us.”

The Biden administration has been working to address a global semiconductor shortage, which has caused production slowdowns in products from appliances to computers and cars. A surge in Covid-19 cases in the largely unvaccinated region has also led to lockdowns in countries including Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia—major exporters of electronics and other goods—that forced factory closures and further disrupted global supply chains.

The vice president’s emphasis on partnering with countries in Southeast Asia on supply-chain problems is also part of the administration’s efforts to reaffirm its engagement in the region, as China seeks to increase its influence and expand its claims in the South China Sea.

Ms. Harris called out China for its maritime actions on Tuesday. “We know that Beijing continues to coerce, to intimidate and to make claims to the vast majority of the South China Sea,” she said. “Beijing’s actions continue to undermine the rules-based order and threaten the sovereignty of nations,” she added.

The White House announced during Ms. Harris’s trip that it would launch a dialogue between the U.S. and Singapore focused on supply chains, and a new partnership between the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Singapore Ministry of Trade and Industry aimed at helping address supply-chain issues.

The U.S. is also offering to host the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, the Pacific Rim’s largest regional economic forum, in 2023, Ms. Harris said.

Aaron Connelly, a Singapore-based researcher with the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a London-based think tank, said that the U.S. and Southeast Asia have different priorities on supply chains but that their interests sometimes overlap.

“The U.S. wants to ensure that its supply chains, particularly on critical technologies like semiconductors, are not at risk due to economic integration with China,” Mr. Connelly said. “To the extent that Southeast Asia can benefit from that, for example the new [U.S.-based GlobalFoundries] semiconductor foundry being constructed here, that’s good. But the broader concern here is that decoupling will force Southeast Asia to choose between two exclusive supply chains.”

Chong Ja Ian, a professor of political science at the National University of Singapore, said Ms. Harris’s comments on U.S. economic interests seemed to be a pitch to get support domestically for continued engagement in Southeast Asia.

Mr. Chong added that Ms. Harris’s remarks on supply-chain cooperation still lack details on objectives and next steps. “That’s what to watch out for next, but there’s not that much substantive right now,” he said.

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