Kamala Harris joins diplomatic charm offensive in South East Asia

DM

When US Vice President Kamala Harris arrives in Vietnam on the second part of her South East Asian tour, she can be grateful it is Hanoi she is flying into, not the larger commercial capital in the south, Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, which was re-named in 1975 after the first insurgent leader to force a humiliating American withdrawal. For years afterwards, Vietnam evoked US failure and the futility of pouring money and lives into a war against an entrenched local insurgency. The obvious parallels between Afghanistan today, and Vietnam then, are going to be awkward enough without actually being in the last city where the US had to lay on a last-minute, panicky evacuation. Vice President Harris’s visit is part of a diplomatic charm offensive by the Biden administration in South East Asia, a region it argues is crucial to the future prosperity and security of the United States. His is the third US administration to promise a renewed focus on this region. President Obama’s had his so-called ‘pivot’, which was supposed to redirect US diplomacy away from the Middle East towards the Asia-Pacific, and President Trump his ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’, intended to challenge China’s expanding influence. Neither strategy went much beyond broad concepts, nor did they reverse the perception of declining US prestige here.

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