SINGAPORE: The United States will stand with its allies and partners, as China continues to "coerce" and "intimidate" as part of its claims to the South China Sea, US Vice President Kamala Harris said on Tuesday (Aug 24).
"Our vision includes freedom of navigation, which is vital to us all. The livelihoods of millions of people depend on the billions of dollars in trade that flow through these sea lanes each day," she said in a policy speech delivered at Singapore's Gardens by the Bay.
"And yet, in the South China Sea, we know that Beijing continues to coerce, to intimidate and to make claims to the vast majority of the South China Sea."
Ms Harris said these "unlawful claims" were rejected in 2016 by the Permanent Court of Arbitration, pointing to its ruling on arbitral proceedings by the Philippines against China on supposed violations by Beijing in the South China Sea.
"Beijing's actions continue to undermine the rules-based order and threaten the sovereignty of nations," she added. "The United States stands with our allies and partners in the face of these threats."
Ms Harris is on her first official trip to Asia. She arrived in Singapore on Sunday as part of a two-nation Asia tour, which also includes Vietnam.
Vietnam, which has been a vocal opponent of China's territorial claims in the South China Sea, has emerged as a key partner of the US.
Ms Harris stressed in her speech that Washington was not seeking to make countries pick sides.
"Our engagement in Southeast Asia and the Indo-Pacific is not against any one country, nor is it designed to make anyone choose between countries," she said.
"Instead, our engagement is about advancing an optimistic vision that we have for our participation and partnership in this region and our economic vision is a critical part of that."
"CAMPAIGN OF VIOLENT REPRESSION"
During her speech, Ms Harris also touched on Myanmar, which she referred to as Burma. The country has been under military rule since February following a coup.
"I'd like to reiterate that we will continue to lead with our values. And that means respecting human rights at home and abroad," she said.
"The United States remains deeply alarmed by the military coup in Burma. We condemn the campaign of violent repression, and we are committed to supporting the people there as they work to return their nation to the path of democracy."
PARTNERSHIP WITH SOUTHEAST ASIA
Ms Harris urged nations throughout the Indo-Pacific to join the US in this effort, saying that she hopes the region will look back at this moment years from now and realise they joined together to "improve the lives of all people".
"I hope that we will be able to point to our partnerships between the United States and Singapore, between the United States and Southeast Asia, and throughout the Indo-Pacific, as the partnerships that made this shared vision of the future possible," she added.
Ms Harris said she believes the growth of the US economy can benefit its partners, especially as its economy "shares so much" with Southeast Asia, from supply chains to a steady flow of two-way trade.
"Collectively, the nations of Southeast Asia, represent our nation's fourth-largest export market. A vibrant and dynamic market, which will soon rank among the biggest markets in the world," she said.
"Our trade relationships in Southeast Asia support more than 600,000 American jobs."
Ms Harris said much of the history of the 21st century will be written in the Indo-Pacific, and that the US will pursue a "free and open" Indo-Pacific that promotes US interests as well as those of its partners and allies.
"Our intention is to strengthen our partnerships and reinforce our shared vision, so that the United States, with our partners, can together continue shaping that history," she said.
"In doing so, there should be no doubt: We have enduring interests in this region, and we have enduring commitments as well."
She said the US will also work multilaterally through long-standing institutions like the Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN), "which remains central to this region's architecture".
"Our partnerships will be grounded in candour, openness, inclusiveness, shared interests and mutual benefits," she added.
She highlighted how the US economy shares much with Southeast Asia, including supply chains and two-way trade.
"Collectively, the nations of Southeast Asia represent our nation's fourth-largest export market - a vibrant and dynamic market which will soon rank among the biggest markets in the world," she said, noting that trade relationships in Southeast Asia support more than 600,000 American jobs.
Ms Harris also said that "with an eye toward the future", the US is strengthening its economic engagement, and announced that the country is offering to host APEC in 2023.
"Through APEC, or the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum, the United States has long worked with our partners in Asia and Latin America to build an interconnected region that advances our collective economic prosperity."
Ms Harris boarded Air Force Two at Paya Lebar Air Base at about 7.18pm on Tuesday as she concluded her visit to Singapore. She will next visit Vietnam for the second leg of her Asia trip.