Vice President Kamala Harris was upstaged by China this week.
After her Wednesday trip to Vietnam was delayed for three hours over an "anomalous health incident" suspected to be the so-called "Havana Syndrome," China quickly sent its envoy to meet with Vietnam's prime minister, where they offered to donate 2 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine - double what Kamala was set to offer, according to the Washington Post.
According to Vietnamese state media, Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh thanked the Chinese envoy, and said that his country "does not ally with one country to fight against another."
The incident underscored the challenges facing the Biden administration as Harris has made her way through Southeast Asia this week, along with Chinese sensitivity about her visit. Washington’s agenda does not always align with that of governments in the region, which face a diplomatic high-wire act in balancing the competing interests of the United States and China — the latter being Vietnam’s top trading partner. -WaPo
"Beijing likes to remind Hanoi who of the two giants is closer to it," according to Australian Strategic Policy Institute senior analyst, Huong Le Thu.
On Tuesday, Pham told Chinese envoy to Hanoi, Xiong Bo, that Vietnam has always maintained an independent foreign policy which prioritized multilateralism, self-reliance, and diversification of international ties, according to the Vietnam News Agency.
"The two sides need to strive to maintain peace and stability, satisfactorily settle disagreements at sea in the spirit of high-level common perceptions," said Pham.
Hanging over a trip intended to demonstrate a U.S. pivot to the Indo-Pacific has been the chaotic collapse of the Western-backed government in Afghanistan and resulting questions about Washington’s commitment to its allies. China has seized on the turmoil to taunt the United States and label it an unreliable partner. But Beijing is also wary of American overtures to Vietnam, a fast-growing nation of 100 million with which it has competing territorial claims in the South China Sea.
Although Vietnam wants the United States to be stronger in resisting China’s militarization of the disputed waterway, some in Vietnam’s leadership would be hesitant to be seen as part of a Washington-led effort simply to counter their giant neighbor, Le Thu said. -WaPo
Harris, meanwhile, accused China of aggression in the South China Sea for the second day in a row - most recently at a bilateral meeting in Hanoi with Vietnam's president Nguyen Xuan Phuc, where she said there was a need to "raise the pressure" on China, "and to challenge its bullying and excessive maritime claims."
On Tuesday, Harris told an audience in Singapore that Beijing "continues to coerce, to intimidate, and to make claims to the vast majority of the South China Sea" and "undermine the rules-based order."
Responding to Harris' shit talking, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Wang Wenbin said the United Sttes "arbitrarily launched military intervention in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, while claiming to defend the interests of smaller countries," adding "I think it would be much more credible if the U.S. said it was trying to maintain its hegemony and uphold its own interests."
China accused Harris of trying to "create a chasm" between China and its Southeast Asian neighbors.