WASHINGTON, Aug 19 (Reuters) - U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris's trip to Singapore and Vietnam starting on Sunday will show that the United States is in the region "to stay," a senior administration official said, as Washington seeks to bolster international support to counter China's growing global influence.
Harris will be the most senior U.S. official to visit the region since President Joe Biden took office in January promising to shore up alliances, which the United States considers key to checking Chinese expansion.
A senior White House official told Reuters earlier this month that the vice president's focus would be on defending international rules in the South China Sea, strengthening U.S. regional leadership and expanding security cooperation in the region.
"The administration is ... making clear that we have an enduring commitment to this region, that we're part of the Indo-Pacific and in the region to stay," the official said.
The trip coincides with chaos in Afghanistan following Biden's decision to withdraw U.S. troops after a 20-year war, the planning of which has been criticized at home and abroad.
The official said Harris would continue to work on issues tied to Afghanistan while on her Asia trip.
"It's been an overwhelming focus and priority of the whole team including the vice president ... at the same time, it is also true that Southeast Asia and the Indo-Pacific are really important. And that's why she's going," the official added.
Harris is due in Singapore on Sunday. She will be the first U.S. vice president to visit Vietnam and arrives in the country on Tuesday and departs next Thursday.
During her trip, Harris will meet Singapore's President Halimah Yacob, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and deliver remarks on a U.S. combat ship visiting Singapore. She will also hold a meeting to discuss supply chain issues with representatives from the private sector and government.
In Hanoi, Vietnam, Harris will meet with leaders including President Ngyuen Xuan Phuc and Prime Minister Pham Ming Chinh and lead the U.S. delegation in launching a regional office for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The visit to Southeast Asia will be Harris' second foreign trip as vice president. In June, she went to Guatemala and Mexico for meetings on the "root causes" of the migrant crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border.
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