Harris delves into Asian diplomacy amid questions about his political future

Palawan, Philippines

vice president Kamala Harris sticks to his script to respond to what Democrats hope will once again be their biggest campaigner: Donald Trump and his third White House bid.

“The president said he intends to run and if he does, I will run with him,” she told CNN on Tuesday – the first time she had been asked about the candidacy. of Trump in 2024, which he announced last week. She was speaking to a group of reporters aboard the Teresa Magbanua, a Philippine Coast Guard vessel stationed at the edge of the South China Sea.

His cautious response at the end of a gaffeless week-long trip to Thailand and the Philippines could serve as a reflection of Harris’ vice-presidency in his sophomore year: Toe the line but don’t wave.

Upon her return from Asia, she is caught in a whirlwind of uncertainty over her place in the party if President Joe Biden, now 80, does not seek a second term. The president is expected to review the Thanksgiving and upcoming holiday decision with his family, whose advice he will seek to run for re-election.

Harris’ trip to Asia — her third to the region since taking office — was another opportunity for the South Asian American first vice president to showcase her ability to lead in traditional vice presidential ways without overstepping her bounds. #2 role.

She attended a series of bilateral meetings and greetings with Asian prime ministers and presidents, including Chinese President Xi Jinping, called a last-minute high-level meeting with Indo-Pacific countries after Korea North launched a long-range ballistic missile hours before the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders’ summit began and paid a symbolic visit to the island of Palawan in the Philippine archipelago, which could potentially increase tensions with China.

With Biden in Washington, D.C., for his granddaughter’s wedding, Harris continued her role as senior envoy on a trip meant to deepen ties with mostly friendly Asian nations and make the United States the region’s best option for economic stability – part of an ongoing effort to counter China’s growing influence.

The vice president called the trip a success, as she brandished her political chops in the region, attempting to pass herself off as a shrewd leader who speaks for Biden in his absence.

“It is very important that we are here today to reaffirm the United States’ commitment to international rules and standards. This trip and this visit in particular was also intended to demonstrate the strength and importance of our relationship with the Philippines, both on economic and security issues,” Harris said in Palawan, in a speech where she rejected China’s aggression in the South China Sea and announced funding initiatives aimed at strengthening the country’s systems and deepening security ties.

Yet the events of Harris were tightly scripted and the trip itself, highly choreographed.

Harris’ “brief greeting” with Xi, as his office described it, was his first face-to-face meeting with the world leader, which took place on the sidelines of APEC. It was probably the most high-profile moment of Harris’ trip, despite the lack of American press in the room to witness it. The vice president met with him just a week after Biden’s first face-to-face bilateral meeting with Xi, which lasted three hours.

But unlike the president, who can share as much of a conversation as he wants, there was an obvious limit to what Harris felt comfortable sharing. She repeatedly refused to go much beyond what was written in a carefully calculated statement about her encounter with Xi.

“We discussed that we keep lines of communication open, that we don’t seek conflict or confrontation, but welcome competition,” Harris told reporters at a press conference concluding his trip to Thailand. , twice dodging if this conversation touched on North Korea. or Taiwan.

If the goal was to stay blunder-free, the planning seems to have paid off. The Republican National Committee only cut moments on Twitter that might have been awkward but didn’t lend themselves to real criticism — an unusual treatment for one of their most attacked Democrats.

On the first day of APEC, a “deeply concerned” Harris rushed his aides to convene a last-minute, unannounced multilateral emergency meeting with allies in the Indo-Pacific region, according to a senior administration official, after North Korea launched a long-range ballistic attack. missile on Friday morning – his second most publicized moment of the trip.

Harris led her team once she was briefed on the latest launch, a White House official said, using the Indo-Pacific nation’s presence at the APEC leaders’ summit to do so. At the head of a U-shaped table in a small room at the Queen Sirikit National Convention Center, the vice president accused North Korea of ​​”brazen violation of multiple UN security resolutions”.

“This conduct by North Korea is more recently a brazen violation of several UN security resolutions. It destabilizes security in the region and unnecessarily increases tensions. We strongly condemn these actions and again call on North Korea to North to cease further unlawful destabilization,” Harris said. “On behalf of the United States, I reaffirmed our unwavering commitment to our Indo-Pacific alliance.”

His statement closely followed one the National Security Council released hours earlier on Biden’s behalf, almost to the end.

The last-minute nature of the meeting caused those in attendance to move quickly to gather the American press, but with no time to preset the cameras, press from the United States, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Korea were battling for an angle – causing the photo-visuals to be shaky and askew at times.

Still, it was a moment that felt almost presidential for Harris as it recalled the emergency in-person meeting Biden called with top allies on his last day at the G20 in Indonesia, when a Russian-made missile went down. within the borders of a NATO Ally.

But the presidential posture had limits. During the week-long trip, the vice president took political and political questions only twice from the group of all women journalists traveling with her from Washington – taking two or three questions each time.

Harris didn’t stray from the talking points in her responses, being careful not to overstep Biden’s position on a host of issues.

Harris has long sought opportunities to present her own interests and create her own path as a young vice president with potential presidential ambitions.

At the national level, she took the lead in administering abortion rights. And on overseas trips, Harris has told her aides she wants to think outside the box when it comes to timing. A big part of that was meeting women and families in different countries.

This directive was evident in Manila, when she participated in a moderated conversation about women’s empowerment and entrepreneurship in a Sofitel ballroom.

“On the issue of women’s economic well-being, I think we all know, and I have a strong belief that you raise a woman’s economic status, her family will be uplifted. Her community will be uplifted,” Harris said as the Filipino women nodded in agreement. “The whole society will benefit. Raise the economic status of women and the whole society benefits.

In the Palawan fishing village of Tagburos, Harris watched women clean fish in front of a scenic backdrop to talk about the devastation climate change and illegal fishing have had on the village.

“Hello madam,” they shouted as she approached. Harris’ translator introduced women as his best friends.

“Best friends,” Harris said, with a laugh and a wave.

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