In a major foreign policy speech in Singapore during her first trip to the region (video and transcript both available), Vice President Harris emphasized the importance of the Indo-Pacific to the United States, including $2 trillion dollars in two-way trade which supports four million US jobs focused on exports. Trade with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), whose combined nations represent the United States’ fourth largest export market, supports more than 600,000 jobs. These strong economic ties rely, Vice President Harris said, on the continued support and protection of freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific, in particular the South China Sea. She condemned China’s “unlawful claims” in the Sea which “continue to undermine the rules-based order and threaten the sovereignty of nations.”
Vice President Harris’ trip to Vietnam marks the first time a sitting US vice president has traveled to the country. Coming just one year after the celebration of 25 years of diplomatic relations between the United States and Vietnam, Vice President Harris announced the donation of one million additional Pfizer vaccine doses to Vietnam, building upon the five million already sent and in keeping with broader US assistance to countries across Southeast Asia in combatting COVID-19. To aid in the distribution of these new vaccination doses, the U.S. Department of Defense is providing Vietnam with 77 vaccine freezers to keep the doses at the appropriate temperature and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has opened a Southeast Asia Regional Office in Hanoi to assist in the fight. An additional $23 million dollars in technological assistance has also been provided by the CDC and USAID through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).
Numerous projects were announced during the trip to provide opportunities for the United States to work with Singapore and Vietnam to combat climate change. The U.S.-Singapore Climate Partnership will serve as a bilateral framework for the two countries to develop climate standards, climate technology, and clean energy infrastructure development, among other initiatives. As part of the ASEAN Smart Cities Network (ASCN) and U.S.-ASEAN Smart Cities Partnership, the United States and Singapore will co-fund the Smart Cities Professional Exchanges program to bring ASCN officials to both their countries to share expertise. In Vietnam, USAID and the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to support Vietnam’s focus on sustainability and green technology, thereby encouraging US businesses to invest in green operations across Vietnam’s provinces.
Looking to the future of educational exchanges, the United States and Singapore have launched an Education USA Advising Center to provide free resources for Singaporean students interested in pursuing their higher education in the United States. In Vietnam, the United States welcomed the start of the Peace Corps in Vietnam, which is slated to begin in 2022. USAID also announced the Partnership for Higher Education Reform, which over five years will provide the three largest universities in Vietnam with $14.2 million dollars to support research, innovation, and governance at those institutions. Vice President Harris’s trip to ASEAN reinforces the importance of this region and hopes to deepen economic, development, and education ties.
Sarah Wang is a Programs Coordinator at the East-West Center in Washington.