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Kamala Harris dives into Asian diplomacy amid questions back home about her political future


Palawan, Philippines
CNN

Deputy Director Camala Harris stays close to her script as she responds to what Democrats hope will once again be their biggest electoral mobilizer: Donald Trump and his third bid from the White House.

“The president said he plans to run and if he does, I’ll run with him,” she told CNN on Tuesday — the first time she was asked about Trump’s 2024 candidacy, which he announced last week. announced. She was addressing a group of reporters aboard the Teresa Magbanua, a Philippine Coast Guard ship stationed at the edge of the South China Sea.

Her tentative response at the end of a week-long blunder-free trip to Thailand and the Philippines could serve as a reflection of Harris’ vice presidency in his second year: follow the line but don’t make waves.

Returning from Asia, she will be caught in a whirlwind of uncertainty about her place in the party if the now 80-year-old President Joe Biden does not seek a second term. The president is expected to consider the decision on Thanksgiving and upcoming holidays with family, whose advice he will seek on re-election.

Harris’ trip to Asia – her third visit to the region since taking office – was another opportunity for America’s first South Asian vice president to demonstrate her ability to lead in the traditional ways of the vice president. presidency without exceeding her role as No. 2.

She attended a series of bilateral meetings and greetings with both Asian Prime Ministers and Presidents, including Chinese President Xi Jinping, convened a last-minute high-profile meeting with Indo-Pacific countries after North Korea launched a long-range ballistic missile hours before the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders’ Summit began and made a symbolic visit to Palawan Island in the Philippine archipelago, potentially heightening tensions with China.

With Biden in Washington, D.C., for his granddaughter’s wedding, Harris continued her role as his top envoy on a trip designed to deepen ties with mostly friendly Asian countries and put forward the US as the best option for economic stability in the region – part of an ongoing effort to counter China’s growing influence.

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The vice president called the trip a success, brandishing her policy chops in the region and trying to pass herself off as an agile leader who speaks for Biden in his absence.

“It is very important that we were here today to reiterate the commitment of the United States to international rules and standards. This trip and this visit in particular was also about demonstrating the strength and importance of our relationship with the Philippines, both on economic issues and security issues,” Harris said in Palawan, in a speech denouncing China’s aggression in the South China Sea and announced funding initiatives aim to strengthen the country’s systems and deepen security ties.

Still, Harris’s events were tightly written and the journey itself was heavily choreographed.

Harris’s “brief greeting” with Xi, as her office described it, was her first face-to-face meeting with the world leader, which took place on the sidelines of APEC. It was probably Harris’s most talked-about moment of the 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 with Xi, which lasted three hours.

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

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

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

On the first day of APEC, a “deeply concerned” Harris rushed with aides to convene a last-minute unannounced emergency multilateral meeting with allies of the Indo-Pacific region, according to a senior government official, after North Korea suffered a long-range ballistic strike launched. rocket Friday morning – her second most talked-about moment of the trip.

Harris led her team after being briefed on the latest launch, a White House official said, taking advantage of 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 ​​”brutally violating multiple UN security resolutions.”

“North Korea’s recent behavior is a brutal violation of several UN security resolutions. It destabilizes security in the region and creates unnecessary tensions. We strongly condemn these actions and we again call on North Korea to halt any further unlawful destabilization,” Harris said. “On behalf of the United States, I reaffirmed our ironclad commitment to our Indo Pacific Alliance.”

Her statement closely followed a statement the National Security Council had issued on Biden’s behalf hours earlier, almost to a tee.

The last-minute nature of the meeting prompted aides to move quickly to round up the US press, but with no time to pre-set cameras, press from the US, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Korea struggled to an angle – causing the photo-op visuals to be wonky and skewed at times.

Still, it was a moment that looked almost presidential to Harris, as it brought to mind the in-person emergency meeting Biden convened with top allies during his last day at the G20 in Indonesia, when a Russian-made missile crashed into the confines of an ally of the United States. NATO.

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But the presidential attitude had limits. During the week-long trip, the vice president answered political and policy questions only twice from the group of all female reporters who traveled with her from Washington — two or three questions each time.

Harris did not stray from discussing points in her answers, making sure not to go beyond Biden’s position on a wide range of issues.

Harris has long sought opportunities to express her own interests and carve her own path as a younger vice president with potential presidential aspirations.

Domestically, she has spearheaded the abortion rights administration. And on overseas trips, Harris has told aides she wants to go outside the box when it comes to the schedule. An important part of that was meeting women and families in different countries.

That direction was evident in Manila, when she joined a moderated conversation about women’s empowerment and entrepreneurship in a ballroom at the Sofitel.

“On the issue of women’s economic well-being, I think we all know, and I feel very strongly, if you raise a woman’s economic status, her family will be abolished. Her community will be disbanded,” Harris said as the Filipino women nodded in agreement. “The whole society will benefit. Raise the economic status of women and benefit society as a whole.”

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

“Hello ma’am,” they called as she approached. Harris’ translator introduced the women as her best friends.

“Dear friends,” Harris said, smiling and waving.

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