US Vice President Kamala Harris, on the sidelines of the APEC summit, said “the United States is here to stay as she attended the event to reaffirm her country’s commitment to the region.
She assured the APEC leaders on Friday in Bangkok that the United States was committed to the region for the long haul, rejecting doubts about its engagement as China expands its clout.
Addressing the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Bangkok, Harris called the United States a “proud Pacific power” and said that long-standing US network of security alliances has allowed Asia to prosper.
“The United States is here to stay,” Harris told business leaders on the sidelines of the event, also attended by Chinese President Xi Jinping.
“Our message is clear: The United States has an enduring economic commitment to the Indo-Pacific, one that is measured not in years, but in decades and generations,” she said, using the preferred US term for the Asia-Pacific region.
The US vice president insisted that economic partnerships in Asia were “a top priority” for the Biden administration and pointed out that the US private sector invests around $1 trillion a year in the region.
“America is a strong partner to the economies and companies of this region because America is and will remain a major engine of global growth, reinforced by our administration’s approach,” she said.
President Joe Biden’s administration has focused on rallying behind allies and Harris will head from Thailand to the Philippines, where she will visit an island near waters increasingly contested by Beijing.
While the United States has taken a firm tone on China, some Asian officials have questioned the level of US economic engagement.
Biden has largely followed his predecessor Donald Trump in turning the page on the era of free-trade agreements, seeing them as unpopular among working-class US voters.
Later, Kamala called on Saturday for open communication with China during a brief meeting with President Xi Jinping, days after he held extensive talks with President Joe Biden.
Harris spoke to the Chinese leader as they entered a retreat in Bangkok during a summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, a White House official said.
The vice president reinforced Biden’s message that “we must maintain open lines of communication to responsibly manage the competition between our countries,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
The meeting came after the United States said it was looking for China to do more to rein in its ally North Korea, which on Friday test-fired a ballistic missile that US and Japanese officials said was capable of hitting the US mainland.
Xi, who is on only his second overseas trip since the pandemic, has been meeting widely with foreign leaders both in Bangkok and earlier in the week at a Group of 20 summit in Bali.
On Monday, Xi met for three hours with Biden at a hotel on the Indonesian resort island, the first in-person talks between the leaders of the world’s two largest economies since they both became president.
Both sides put a positive spin on the meeting, saying they hoped to prevent recent tensions from spiralling out of control and wanted to cooperate on areas such as climate change.
The Biden-Xi summit and the brief meeting with Harris come ahead of a planned visit to China early next year by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the first by the top US diplomat since 2018.
Harris on Friday also held crisis talks on Pyongyang’s latest launch with the prime ministers of five US partners — Japan, South Korea, Australia, Canada and New Zealand — to issue a strong condemnation of North Korea.
“We do think that Beijing has a role to play,” another senior US official accompanying Harris said on Friday.
China should use its influence to persuade North Korea “not to go in this provocative direction, which only destabilises the region and the world”, the official said.
Tensions between the United States and China have soared in particular over Taiwan, the self-ruling democracy claimed by Beijing.
China in August carried out major military exercises seen as a trial run for an invasion after a solidarity visit to Taiwan by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is second in line to the White House.
Xi told Biden that support for Taiwan was a red line. Biden later told reporters that the two leaders understood each other’s positions and that he did not expect an “imminent” invasion of Taiwan.
The United States has also been pressing China to limit support to Russia in its invasion of Ukraine, with US officials cautiously upbeat that Beijing has not sent military supplies.