Jakarta: It took more than a day of flying, including two refueling stops, for Vice President Kamala Harris to reach this year’s summit of Southeast Asian countries. And once she arrived, she had less than eight minutes of public speaking time during two meetings.
But in Jakarta’s cavernous convention center, adorned with billowing flowers and tropical plants for the occasion, Harris saw an opportunity to shape the future of United States foreign policy.
In an interview, VP Harris said that Washington must “pay attention to 10, 20, 30 years down the line, and what we are developing now that will be to the benefit of our country then.”
For her, that means working in Southeast Asia. Two-thirds of its population is under 35 years old. It’s the fourth-largest market for U.S. exports. One-third of global shipping travels through the South China Sea.
“Think about it,” Harris said.
This was her third trip to Southeast Asia since taking office — Harris headed back to Washington on Thursday — and she’s visited more countries in Southeast Asia than any other region. It’s a sprawling constellation of nations, many of them eager for the personal touch of an American leader, and Harris has spent the past few years making the rounds.
Some analysts believe China maintains an edge in the region, and the Australia-based Lowy Institute issued a report earlier this year concluding that Beijing was still gaining ground in recent years.
However, Harris delivered a series of messages at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations that were intended to demonstrate American commitment despite Biden’s absence from the summit.