Vice President Kamala Harris continued her hawkish rhetoric against China on Wednesday while meeting with Vietnamese leaders in Hanoi. Harris urged Vietnam to join the US in opposing what she called Beijing’s “bullying” in the South China Sea.
“We need to find ways to pressure and raise the pressure, frankly, on Beijing to abide by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and to challenge its bullying and excessive maritime claims,” Harris said in a meeting with Vietnam’s President Nguyen Xuan Phuc.
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, known as UNCLOS, is an international treaty that defines the rights of nations to territorial waters. In July 2020, Washington formally rejected most of Beijing’s claims to the South China Sea under the framework of UNCLOS, although the US has never ratified the treaty and is not a party to it.
Since the Obama administration, the US has sent warships to challenge China’s claims to the South China Sea. In recent years, overall US military activity in the disputed waters has increased significantly. Harris pledged this provocative activity would continue. She said the US will “maintain a strong presence in the South China Sea” to challenge Beijing.
Harris also called for strengthening US-Vietnam security ties and said she favors the idea of deploying a Coast Guard cutter to the Southeast Asian Nation. For their part, the Vietnamese seem hesitant to join the US in its hardline stance on China. Ahead of Harris’ visit, Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh assured the Chinese envoy in Vietnam that Hanoi has no intention of joining an anti-China alliance.
Harris delivered a similar message in Singapore on Tuesday, where she accused Beijing of “coercion” and “intimidation” in the South China Sea. Her two-country tour in Southeast Asia comes after Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin traveled to the region in July.
Back-to-back visits from high-level US officials to Southeast Asia demonstrates the importance of the region to the Biden administration and the priority that is being put on rallying Asian countries against China.