Vice President Kamala Harris has made the United States position on Beijing clear: China’s behavior in the South China Sea amounts to “coercion” and “intimidation.”
Harris admonished Beijing’s actions at a major address in Singapore on Tuesday, where she delivered the U.S. vision for the Indo-Pacific.
“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.”
The region is of great significance to the Biden Administration, which considers China a high priority foreign policy issue. Harris’ address, as part of a weeklong tour of Southeast Asia, sought to fortify U.S. relationships with allies in the region in light of tensions between China and Taiwan and other nations.
Home to some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes and bordered by several countries, the South China Sea has caused tensions as China has been accused of unjustly staking claim to waters and showing undue military strength.
Harris said the region was “critically important to our nation’s security and prosperity,” noting that exports to the region supported 4 million American jobs and in 2019 the U.S. conducted almost $2 trillion in two-way trade with Indo-Pacific nations.
Harris tempered her emphasis on the region’s importance to the U.S. interests, however.
“I must be clear that our engagement in Southeast Asia and the Indo-Pacific is not against any one country,” Harris added. “Nor is it designed to make anyone chose between countries.”
Harris also announced the U.S. was willing to host the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in 2023.
On Monday, the Vice President’s office announced several agreements with Singapore following a meeting with its prime minister and president. They included combatting climate change, addressing cyber security threats, strengthening supply chains, as well as fostering cooperation in space exploration and defense issues.
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Thomas Heaton is a Li Center for Global Journalism Fellow. The position is supported by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the Institute for Nonprofit News. You can reach him by email at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @thomasheaton.