China exploited Kamala Harris’ unexpected flight delay to Vietnam this week to undermine the United States — by doubling the US offer of coronavirus vaccines before the vice president could make her big announcement, according to reports.
Harris was on route to Vietnam to offer a coronavirus-rescue package, including 1 million extra doses of the Pfizer vaccine, when her plane was delayed over a feared case of the so-called “Havana Syndrome.”
During the delay, Beijing rushed its envoy in Hanoi to meet with Vietnam’s prime minister — where he doubled the US offer with a pledge of 2 million vaccines, The Washington Post reported, citing Chinese state media.
The offer undercut the VP’s eventual announcement, and reflects Chinese sensitivity about the US trying to win over Vietnam, its former adversary that is a fast-growing nation of nearly 100 million, the paper said.
Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh thanked the Chinese envoy for the offer, saying that Vietnam “does not ally with one country to fight against another,” the Washington paper said, again citing state media.
But the timing of the offer was an obvious move by China during Harris’ weeklong trip to Southeast Asia during which she accused Beijing of “bullying” and “intimidation” in the South China Sea.
“Beijing likes to remind Hanoi who of the two giants is closer to it,” Huong Le Thu, a senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, told The Washington Post.
Vietnam is grappling with a new coronavirus surge driven by the Delta variant and low vaccination rates, with only about 2 percent of the country’s population fully vaccinated.
As well as the additional vaccines — which take the total donated by the US to 6 million — Harris announced that $23 million will be provided to help Vietnam expand distribution and access to the shots as well as combat the pandemic and prepare for future disease threats.
The Defense Department is also delivering 77 freezers to store vaccines throughout the country.
Beijing’s donation was made to the Vietnamese military, while the US one is for the population at large.
After Harris repeatedly accused Beijing of bullying, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin responded by accusing Washington of simply seeking to defend “US hegemony and its own interests,” rather than standing up for the rights of small countries.
“China firmly rejects the US deployment of law enforcement forces in the South China Sea, meddling in regional affairs and disrupting regional peace and stability,” Wang said at a daily briefing.
Harris’ flight to Vietnam was delayed Tuesday afternoon after the vice president’s office was made aware of an investigation into two possible cases of the so-called Havana Syndrome in Hanoi, officials have said.
The Havana Syndrome is the name for a rash of mysterious health incidents first reported by American diplomats and other government employees in the Cuban capital beginning in 2016 that have since affected diplomats across the globe.