Vice President Kamala Harris vows support to Vietnam in several key areas including enhancement of its maritime security in bid to counter China's influence as events in Afghanistan cast doubts on US claims of reliability.

US Vice President Kamala Harris, left, and Vietnam's President Nguyen Xuan Phuc pose for a photograph in the Presidential Palace in Hanoi, Vietnam on August 25, 2021.
US Vice President Kamala Harris, left, and Vietnam's President Nguyen Xuan Phuc pose for a photograph in the Presidential Palace in Hanoi, Vietnam on August 25, 2021. (AP)

US Vice President Kamala Harris has met Vietnam's top leaders, offering support in several key areas including the enhancement of its maritime security in an effort to counter Beijing.

Harris on Wednesday also offered more visits by US warships during her talks with Vietnam's President Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Vice President Vo Thi Anh Xuan and Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, according to a White House official who did not wish to be named.

Harris's seven-day trip to Singapore and Vietnam is part of a broader US strategy to woo allies that Washington hopes will help it challenge China's growing security and economic influence in the region.

During the talks Harris offered Vietnam vaccines and aid to tackle Covid-19 and announced the launch of several programmes to help combat climate change, said the White House official.

Speaking in Hanoi, Harris said there was a need to increase pressure on Beijing over its maritime claims.

"We need to find ways to pressure, raise the pressure…on Beijing to abide by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and to challenge, its bullying and excessive maritime claims," said Harris during a meeting with the Vietnamese president.

READ MORE: US blacklists Chinese individuals, firms for South China Sea work

Harris accuses Beijing of coercion

It was the second time in two days Harris has attacked Beijing.

On Tuesday in Singapore, Harris accused Beijing of coercion and intimidation to back unlawful claims in parts of the disputed the South China Sea. 

China on Wednesday rejected her comments, charging Washington with trying to drive a wedge between Beijing and its Southeast Asian neighbours.

China has established military outposts on artificial islands in the South China Sea, which is crossed by vital shipping lanes and contain gas fields and rich fishing grounds.

China, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan lay claim to parts of the waters.

Over the last few years, tensions between China and Vietnam in the South China Sea have remained high and Vietnam has quietly endorsed the US Indo-Pacific strategy because it takes a hard line against China in the disputed waters.

However, with US-China competition throughout the Indo-Pacific dramatically heating up, the Southeast Asian nation has attempted to strike a delicate balancing act.

'Havana syndrome'

Harris arrival was delayed due to what US officials called an "anomalous health incident" in Hanoi, an apparent reference to the so-called "Havana syndrome" which has afflicted US diplomats in several countries including China and Russia.

It is not clear what causes the syndrome and it has led to unproven allegations that Russians or others used sonic or other high-intensity electronic devices to physically harm US diplomats.

Saigon-Kabul evacuations

But Harris' Vietnam leg of the Asian tour has sparked criticism after the chaotic evacuation of Kabul prompted comparisons with the trauma of 1975 Saigon, when US helicopters ferried final evacuees from the embassy roof in the last days of the Vietnam War.

Harris is steering clear of Saigon - now named Ho Chi Minh City - and on Wednesday she will seek to shift the focus from the historical parallels and emphasise Washington's commitment to Southeast Asia as it opens a regional branch of the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Hanoi.

The United States has already donated five million doses of Covid-19 vaccines to Vietnam.

But events in Afghanistan have cast doubts on US claims of reliability.

Pham Quang Vinh, Vietnam's former ambassador to the United States, told AFP the country was watching events in Kabul closely.

"The US has recommitted itself now to this region but if something happens in Afghanistan again, for example if terrorism comes back... will the US continue to focus here?" he told AFP.

Vietnam has sought to forge its own path between the two superpowers and on Tuesday Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh met the Chinese ambassador and stressed Hanoi would not "align with one country against another".

READ MORE: Harris says US ‘singularly focused’ on Afghanistan evacuations

Source: AFP