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Postmaster: Send address change to News India Times, 1655 Oak Tree Toad, Suite 155 Edison, NJ 08820-2843 Annual Subscription: United States: $28 Disclaimer: Parikh Worldwide Media assumes no liability for claims/ assumptions made in advertisements and advertorials. Opinion News India Times September 22, 2023 3 Disclaimer:The views and opinions expressed on this page are those of the authors and Parikh Worldwide Media does not officially endorse, and is not responsible or liable for them. Vice President Harris Says Showing Up In Asia Is Important, But Not Enough O ver the past week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s Ukraine visit and President Biden’s trip to India and Vietnam dominated international news. But Vice Presi- dent Harris’s overlooked visit to Indonesia might turn out to be even more important in the long term. The front line of the great-power competition with China runs through Southeast Asia. In Jakarta, Harris represented the Unit- ed States (in Biden’s absence) at a meeting with nine of the 10 governments from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, known as ASEAN. (Myanmar, where the military junta is crushing its own citizens, was not invited.) She also attended the East Asia Summit, which includes China, India, Russia, Japan, South Korea, Austra- lia and New Zealand. She met with several regional leaders; she has established personal relationships with many of them. This was Harris’s fourth trip to Asia since she became vice president and her third to Southeast Asia. Cabinet officials’ trips to China gener- ate intense coverage but scant results. Conversely, Harris’s substantive work to advance alliances in Southeast Asia has gone largely unnoticed. This is partly because ofWashington’s chronic neglect of this important but low-profile region. Those fighting international fires tend to draw attention more than those carefully tending the diplomatic gardens of the future. “If you just look down the path of the next couple decades and think about what’s going to be important right now to do, strengthening relationships in this part of the world is going to be a big part of that,” Harris told me during an interview in Jakarta. “Showing up is very important . . . but it’s not enough.” Harris is also dogged by a false narra- tive that she’s not up to the job on foreign policy - one undoubtedly amplified by misogyny and racism on the far right. This portrayal typically focuses on her one im- perfect interview in Guatemala two years ago or the time she accidentally described North Korea as a U.S. ally during a visit to the demilitarized zone. In fact, since 2021, Harris has met with dozens of Asian leaders, including the heads of all five U.S. treaty allies in the region (Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia and Thailand), many of themmultiple times - patiently reinforcing ties that are crucial to U.S. interests in the Indo-Pacific. Harris has also met with Chinese Presi- dent Xi Jinping and briefly met with Chi- nese Premier Li Qiang last week in Jakarta. But she isn’t focused on China; she took on the Southeast Asia portfolio because it offered her an opportunity to step up and be useful. “She’s serving in the same role for Biden that Biden did for President Obama on foreign policy, just in a different region,” U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel told me. “She went to a major international forum in Asia and she took care of the business. It’s that simple. And that means a lot.” She met with Indonesian President JokoWidodo, and they discussed a limited free-trade deal that could help the United States reduce its dependence on China for nickel and other minerals needed to produce the technologies of tomorrow. She has taken on crucial but low-publicity issues such as supply chains, clean-energy infrastructure and tensions in the South China Sea. This is often not a glamorous assign- ment. For example, Harris boarded a Phil- ippine Coast Guard ship last November and visited the remote island of Palawan, where she promised the United States would stand against “illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing,” which China is pushing to unprecedented levels, with devastating ecological and economic consequences. Although she was mocked by Fox News for visiting fishermen on Palawan, Harris told me it is important to convince people in these countries that America cares about their situation. “You’ve got to know the history of the country, what’s their experience with this issue, what did their grandmother tell them when they were growing up about what this issue means to their family and their identity and their nation,” she told me. ASEAN countries have more than 600 million people and a combined GDP of $3.2 trillion. And as China’s economic growth slows, Southeast Asia’s is set to ac- celerate; if ASEAN were a single nation, its economy would be the fourth-largest in the world by 2050. U.S. businesses already recognize the region’s potential. ASEAN countries have received more than $350 billion in U.S. foreign direct investment, which is more than American investment in China, India, Japan and South Korea combined, according to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The region’s stability is vital to the suc- cess of the U.S. and global economies. About one-third of all global maritime shipping traverses the South China Sea. That’s why China is building military bases there on contested islands and arti- ficial features, while brazenly expanding its territorial claims, including as recently as this month. Harris told me her experience as a former prosecutor informs her focus on enforcing the rule of law and international norms in the region. This plays well in Southeast Asia, where many governments shy away from grandiose talk about de- mocracy vs. autocracy and want to avoid direct confrontation with Beijing. “Prosecutors have to understand that you get your case as it is. You don’t [get to] make it up,” she told me. That might be Harris’s way of acknowl- edging that the Biden administration’s strategy in Southeast Asia has gaps. De- spite a long list of regional initiatives, the administration’s Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity, which is meant to be the economic plank of the strategy, does not contain enough substance to be taken seriously in the region. Although U.S. trade with ASEAN countries rose to $520 billion last year, the administration rarely talks about the issue. Southeast Asian countries have various relationships with Beijing, but none want to be forced to choose between the two superpowers. At the same time, China’s increasing economic aggression and military expansion are making regional leaders’ lives harder. Almost all want more U.S. engagement. “There’s a variation in terms of their reluctancy or their ability to speak pub- licly about their concerns,” Harris told me. “The one thing that is pretty consistent is that they don’t ask us to stop talking about it.” The most interesting moment in Harris’s trip came atWednesday night’s gala dinner, when Harris invited Philip- pine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to chat and then released a statement about their joint position on the South China Sea. That encounter was aimed at sending a message about growing alliances to con- front China’s aggression without saying as much out loud. Harris is careful when talking about China, not wanting to increase tensions in an already nervous region. I asked her whether the United States and China were in a ColdWar. She said, “No” but quickly added, “There shouldn’t be a conflation between that point and what we are will- ing to do to compete and how clear-eyed we are about where there is a divergence of values and priorities.” To be sure, Harris has been learning foreign policy on the job, as all diplo- mats must. But rather than assuming she already knew everything, she did the legwork to learn about this region from the people on the ground. Her conclusion, which is correct, is that the United States ought to listen to themmore. “We cannot have any credibility if we don’t have some level of profound and sincere interest and therefore knowledge about what is happening in other coun- tries,” she told me. Can Harris escape her unjustified depiction as a gaffe-prone foreign policy neophyte? Can U.S. foreign policy man- age urgent crises while also investing the time and resources needed to prepare for the next decade? For the sake of both the United States and Southeast Asia, let’s hope both answers are yes. Josh Rogin is a columnist for the Global Opinions section of The Washington Post. He writes about foreign policy and national security. Rogin is also a political analyst for CNN. He is the author of the book Chaos Under Heaven: Trump, Xi, and the Battle for the 21st Century. -TheWashington Post By Josh Rogin Photo:TheWashington Post