Vice President Kamala Harris will lead a U.S. delegation to Japan next week to attend the funeral of slain former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and later travel to South Korea in a bid to signal U.S. commitment to its allies in the region, the White House announced.
While abroad, Ms. Harris is slated to meet key regional leaders including Japan’s current Prime Minister Kishida Fumio, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and Prime Minister Han Duck-soo amid rising tensions between the U.S. and China. She arrives in Japan on Monday.
Senior administration officials said Friday the purpose of the trip is to “reaffirm the United States’ commitment to our allies in an increasingly complex security environment” and to “deepen our overall engagement in the Indo-Pacific” in addition to honoring the former prime minister.
The high-profile visit to the region amid increasing tensions in the Taiwan Strait adds to White House actions meant to bolster the vice president’s foreign policy chops, as speculation grows over President Biden’s intent to seek reelection in 2024.
“It’s an area of great strategic and national security interest for the United States,” said Democratic strategist Brad Bannon. “It’s certainly an opportunity for the vice president to burnish her international policy credentials. Whether it sends a signal about 2024, I don’t know.”
The U.S.-China ties have become increasingly strained after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taipei in August.
The California Democrat became the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Taiwan in decades, sparking a series of Chinese military exercises surrounding the island that is 100 miles off of the mainland.
The White House has warned that China’s reaction to the high-profile stopover could cast a far-reaching shadow over U.S.-Chinese relations for the foreseeable future.
Relations became further inflamed earlier this week after Mr. Biden said in an interview on CBS’s “60 minutes” that U.S. forces would defend Taiwan if China launches “an unprecedented attack” on the self-governed island.
Under the Biden administration, the U.S. has adhered to the so-called “One China” policy, under which Washington has long acknowledged Beijing’s position that Taiwan is part of China, even though the United States maintains informal diplomatic relations and substantial defense ties with the island democracy — and does not technically recognize Chinese sovereignty over it.
Shortly after the interview aired, the White House said the U.S. policy toward China had not changed.
“You can assume that Taiwan will come up in the various bilateral meetings, both in Japan and Korea,” the senior official said of the vice president’s trip. “Obviously, Japan and the Republic of Korea have a lot at stake in Taiwan and the region. This will be an opportunity for the vice president to discuss the recent developments and the way forward with the leaders of both Japan and the Republic of Korea.”
The U.S. also faces growing tensions with an increasingly bellicose North Korea that has significantly ramped up weapons testing under the Biden administration.
Officials say the vice president will “underscore the strength of the ROK alliance and discuss the threat posed by the DPRK” while meeting with Mr. Yoon.
The visit marks Ms. Harris’ second trip to the region as vice president, after traveling to Singapore and Vietnam in August 2021.
Ms. Harris’s foray into foreign policy has come under scrutiny by Republicans who question her ability to deal with high-pressure situations that have global ramifications.
In March, Ms. Harris led a U.S. delegation to reassure NATO allies Poland and Romania weeks after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
During the trip she came under fire for a series of gaffes during closely watched press conferences. Critics accused her of belting out an uncomfortable laugh in response to a question about countries accepting immigrants fleeing war-torn Ukraine.
The gaffe led a former spokesperson for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to write “It would be a tragedy if this woman won the presidency,” on Twitter before deleting the response.