Kamala Harris' trip to Asia has new urgency amid collapse of Afghan government

Vice President Kamala Harris
Posted at 5:42 AM, Aug 20, 2021

WASHINGTON — The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan is giving new urgency to Vice President Kamala Harris' tour of southeast Asia, where she will attempt to reassure allies of American resolve following the chaotic end of a two-decade war.

The trip, which begins Friday, will provide a forum for Harris to assert herself more directly in foreign affairs. Still, there are substantial risks, as Harris is largely untested in international diplomacy and foreign policy.

Her swing through Vietnam could draw unwanted comparisons between the humiliating withdrawal of U.S. troops there in 1975 and the tumultuous effort this week to evacuate Americans and allies from Afghanistan.

Harris' trip will also occur in the shadow of China, whose growing influence worries some U.S. policymakers.

"She's walking into a hornet's nest, both with what's taking place in Afghanistan, but also the challenge of China that looms particularly large in Vietnam," Brett Bruin, the former U.S. global engagement director during the Obama administration, told The Associated Press. "On a good day, it's walking a tightrope. On a not so good day, it's walking a tightrope while leading an elephant across. There's just an enormous set of issues that she will run into from the moment that Air Force Two touches down."

Harris will speak with Singapore's president, Halimah Yacob, on the phone on Monday and participate in a bilateral meeting with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. She'll also deliver remarks on a U.S. combat ship that's visiting the country.

Harris will travel to Vietnam later in the week, where she'll likely address the parallels between the ending of the Vietnam war and the current state of evacuations in Afghanistan.