Harris holds steady on Southeast Asia trip as crises loom

Harris holds steady on Southeast Asia trip as crises loom

Honolulu (US): In Singapore, in between a foreign policy speech and a roundtable talk about supply chain issues, Vice President Kamala Harris stopped to smell the flowers.

Specifically, she checked out an orchid that the country named after her a light fuschia hybrid named Papilionanda Kamala Harris a diplomatic honor also bestowed on former President Barack Obama and then-Vice President Joe Biden during past visits to the country.

Oh, this is extraordinary, she marveled as she took a brief tour of the lush Flower Field room of Singapore's iconic Gardens By the Bay on Tuesday.

It was a brief and rare moment of normalcy for Harris during a diplomatic trip chock full of extraordinary circumstances.

Harris' weeklong trip to Singapore and Vietnam was shadowed from start to finish by the crisis in Afghanistan. Questions about the messy U.S. withdrawal dominated her first few days in Singapore and the attack that killed 13 Americans outside the Kabul airport caused her to nix a planned visit to California on her way home.

In the middle, Harris delayed by a few hours her travel to Vietnam because of concern about potential health attacks against U.S. diplomats there.

And the trip itself played out against the backdrop of a global pandemic that kept Harris hemmed in by the carefully choreographed stagecraft of her diplomatic meetings with leaders and a smattering of roundtables and speeches.

But those very crises may in fact have contributed to what analysts say was the overall success of the trip.

Buffeted by these concerns about things that were happening both in Hanoi and elsewhere, they held pretty steady, said Ted Osius, who served as U.S. ambassador to Vietnam under Obama.

They delivered key messages to our partners and showed both continuity and a future for the relationships, by the fact that they had steady nerves and they continued with the trip, even despite these challenges.

Amid the withdrawal from Afghanistan, one of Harris' top tasks for the trip was to reassure US allies that America can be trusted to stand by its commitments. Osius said the Vietnamese now know that we trust each other enough to be able to carry on, even in turbulent, unusual times.

Facing numerous questions about Afghanistan, Harris overall exhibited a more disciplined message than she did during her first foreign trip, to Guatemala and Mexico.

There, she drew criticism from Democrats for warning migrants not to come to the US, and from Republicans for dismissing questions about her decision not to visit the US southern border.

In Singapore, and again in Vietnam, Harris repeated administration talking points about the evacuation effort being the White House's highest priority and avoided getting bogged down in recriminations over what went wrong.

There wasn't really anything to clean up, which obviously differentiates from that Guatemala and Mexico trip, said Democratic strategist Joel Payne.

Even so, Republicans took the opportunity to go after Harris both a nod toward her possible political future, as the presumptive sucessor to Biden if he chooses not to run in 2024, and an attempt to take advantage of her generally divisive profile among US voters.

Chris Martin, deputy executive director of GOP opposition research group America Rising, said on Twitter that every assignment Kamala Harris has touched as VP has failed miserably, including her latest efforts to reassure US allies.

But Payne said Harris had showed a more polished and focused approach on her latest trip.

My sense is that the vice president's team has attempted to course correct a bit and simplify the message and simplify the task, he said.

On confronting China the trickiest diplomatic issue for Harris during the trip the vice president struck a balance in delivering a rebuke of what she called China's bullying in the South China Sea while also offering a more constructive vision for the U.S. relationship with Singapore and Vietnam.

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