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Harris in Singapore as U.S. tries to counter China's influence

The trip marks Harris’ second foreign trip and will be the first time a U.S. vice president has visited Vietnam.
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/ Source: The Associated Press

SINGAPORE—The White House on Monday announced a series of new agreements with Singapore aimed at combating cyberthreats, tackling climate change, addressing the COVID-19 pandemic and alleviating supply chain issues. The announcements coincide with Vice President Kamala Harrisvisit to the region, as part of the Biden administration’s efforts to counter Chinese influence there.

On cybersecurity, the Treasury and Defense Departments, as well as the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, have each inked a memorandum of understanding with their Singapore counterparts expanding information sharing and training to combat cyber threats.

On climate, the two nations are launching the U.S.-Singapore Climate Partnership, a new effort between the Departments of Commerce, Energy, Transportation and Treasury and their counterparts in Singapore to develop new climate standards and collaborate on projects to expand clean energy infrastructure development and improve sustainability.

Image: Vice President Kamala Harris attends a joint news conference with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in Singapore
Vice President Kamala Harris' Southeast Asian trip, which brings Harris to Singapore and then later to Vietnam this week, is aimed at broadening cooperation to offer a counterweight to China’s growing influence.Evelyn Hockstein / AP

The two nations agreed to cooperate more closely to track COVID-19 variants and engage in research on coronavirus treatments. And the Department of Commerce is joining with the Singapore Ministry of Trade and Industry to create a partnership focused on strengthening trade throughout a handful of key industries.

The White House announced additional agreements between the two nations fostering cooperation on space exploration and defense issues as well. The announcements came Monday after Harris met with Singapore President Halimah Yacob, and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Harris' Southeast Asian trip, which brings Harris to Singapore and then later to Vietnam this week, is aimed at broadening cooperation with both nations to offer a counterweight to China’s growing influence in the region.

On Monday morning, Harris participated in a welcome ceremony outside the Istana, the presidential palace, where she held her hand over her heart while a marching band played the Star Spangled Banner. She then walked around the courtyard, reviewing the band, accompanied by Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Loong then showed her a species of an orchid that was named in her honor, and Harris participated in a brief courtesy call with President Halimah Yacob, before heading into a series of bilateral meetings with the prime minister.

After her meetings, the vice president will participate in a joint news conference, and later visit the Changi Naval Base, where she’ll speak to American sailors aboard the USS Tulsa, a combat ship.

On Tuesday, Harris will deliver a speech outlining the Biden administration’s vision for the region, and meet with business leaders to discuss supply chain issues.

The trip marks Harris’ second foreign trip — she visited Guatemala and Mexico in June — and will be the first time a U.S. vice president has visited Vietnam.

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Singapore is the anchor of the U.S. naval presence in Southeast Asia and has a deep trade partnership with the U.S., but the country also seeks to maintain strong ties with China and a position of neutrality amid increasingly frosty U.S.-China relations.

Relations between the U.S. and China deteriorated sharply under Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, and the two sides remain at odds over a host of issues including technology, cybersecurity and human rights.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin made their first overseas trips to Japan and South Korea. Austin traveled to Singapore, Vietnam and the Philippines last month and he vowed U.S. support against Beijing’s intrusions in the South China Sea.

Harris is expected to emphasize the need for a free and open Indo-Pacific region in her conversations with Singapore's and Vietnam's leaders.