US to offer Vietnam more Covid-19 vaccine help as Kamala Harris visits

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) – US Vice-President Kamala Harris will offer Vietnam assistance in distributing vaccines during her visit to the country, according to a White House official, further bolstering a relationship that has grown closer in recent years in the face of Chinese aggression.

Ms Harris later on Wednesday (Aug 25) will hold a discussion with South-east Asian officials on health security, before launching the South-east Asia regional office for the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. The United States has donated 5 million vaccine doses to Vietnam, the Embassy in Hanoi said last month.

Vaccines have been at the forefront of an American diplomatic offensive in South-east Asia, with the region accounting for about a fifth of all doses the US has given globally.

The Biden administration is aiming to bolster ties with countries in China’s backyard, with Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and now Ms Harris visiting the region over the past few weeks.

Just 1.9 per cent of Vietnam’s population has been fully vaccinated, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, among the lowest vaccination rates anywhere in Asia.

Vietnam announced on Tuesday that China would give it another 2 million vaccine doses.

Ms Harris’ trip to Singapore and Vietnam has been overshadowed by Afghanistan, where a rapid collapse of the US-backed government has left the Biden administration rushing to evacuate Americans and those who assisted their 20-year war effort against the Taleban, which now controls almost all of the country.

Photographs of helicopters over Kabul evoked images of air rescues from Saigon – now known as Ho Chi Minh City – more than 45 years ago, lending Ms Harris’ previously scheduled visit to Vietnam an unplanned historical echo.

“US businesses and other businesses from the other parts of the world see huge opportunities for growth,” Mr Ted Osius, president and CEO of the US-Asean Business Council, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television.

“Security is really about more than ships and planes, it’s also about ties between nations, and what I think the vice president is doing is cementing those ties in multiple areas on the two stops of her trip.”

Ms Harris’ departure from Singapore on Tuesday was delayed for more than three hours because of concerns about “an anomalous health incident” in Hanoi, the State Department said.

The phrase “anomalous health incidents” describes so-called Havana Syndrome, which has afflicted dozens of US diplomats and intelligence officials who describe feeling ill and other unusual physical sensations after hearing strange sounds. The US has not determined a cause for the affliction.

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