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Harris to visit front-line Philippine island in sea feud

On Tuesday she’ll fly to Palawan province, which lies along the South China Sea, to meet fishermen, villagers, officials and the coast guard…reports Asian Lite News

Vice President Kamala Harris will underscore America’s commitment to defending treaty ally the Philippines with a visit that started Sunday and involves flying to an island province facing the disputed South China Sea, where Washington has accused China of bullying smaller claimant nations.

After attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Thailand, Harris flew Sunday night to a red-carpet welcome in Manila. On Monday, she meets President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. for talks aimed at reinforcing Washington’s oldest treaty alliance in Asia and strengthening economic ties, said a senior U.S. administration official, who was not identified according to practice, in an online briefing ahead of the visit.

Harris said her trip to Thailand was “quite successful” as she reiterated the U.S. commitment to the region Sunday afternoon at a roundtable discussion on climate change.

The panel of climate activists, civil society members and business leaders focused on clean energy and the threat climate change is posing to the Mekong River, which more than 60 million people in Southeast Asia use for food, water and transport. Harris announced the U.S. plans to provide up to $20 million in funding for clean energy in the region via the Japan-U.S. Mekong Power Partnership.

On Tuesday she’ll fly to Palawan province, which lies along the South China Sea, to meet fishermen, villagers, officials and the coast guard. Once there, she’ll be the highest-ranking U.S. leader to visit the frontier island at the forefront of the long-seething territorial disputes involving China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

The Philippine coast guard is scheduled to welcome Harris on board one of its biggest patrol ships, the BRP Teresa Magbanua, in Palawan, where she is scheduled to deliver a speech, according to coast guard spokesperson Commodore Armand Balilo.

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris (L) speaks after U.S. President Joe Biden signed the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, D.C., the United States, on March 29, 2022. (Xinhua/Liu Jie/IANS)

Harris will underscore the importance of international law, unimpeded commerce and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, the U.S. official said.

China can view the visit the way it wants, the official added in response to a question, but Washington’s message is that the U.S., as a member of the Indo-Pacific, is engaged and committed to the security of its allies in the region.

Philippine Ambassador to Washington Jose Manuel Romualdez said Harris’s trip to Palawan shows the level of America’s support to an ally and concern over China’s actions in the disputed sea.

“That’s as obvious as you can get, that the message they’re trying to impart to the Chinese is that ‘we support our allies like the Philippines on these disputed islands,’” Romualdez told The Associated Press. “This visit is a significant step in showing how serious the United States views this situation now.”

Washington and Beijing have long been on a collision course in the contested waters. While the U.S. lays no claims to the strategic waterway, where an estimated $5 trillion in global trade transits each year, it has said that freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea is in America’s national interest.

China opposes U.S. Navy and Air Force patrols in the busy waterway, which Beijing claims virtually in its entirety. It has warned Washington not to meddle in what it says is a purely Asian territorial conflict — which has become a delicate front-line in the U.S.-China rivalry in the region and has long been feared as a potential flashpoint.

In July, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on China to comply with a 2016 arbitration ruling that invalidated Beijing’s vast territorial claims in the South China Sea and warned that Washington is obligated to defend treaty ally Philippines if its forces, vessels or aircraft come under attack in the disputed waters.

China has rejected the 2016 decision by an arbitration tribunal set up in The Hague under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea after the Philippine government complained in 2013 about China’s increasingly aggressive actions in the disputed waters. Beijing did not participate in the arbitration, rejected its ruling as a sham and continues to defy it.

Harris’ visit is the latest sign of the growing rapport between Washington and Manila under Marcos Jr., who took office in June after a landslide electoral victory.

America’s relations with the Philippines entered a difficult period under Marcos’ predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, who threatened to sever ties with Washington and expel visiting American forces, and once attempted to abrogate a major defense pact with the U.S. while nurturing cozy ties with China and Russia.

When President Joe Biden met Marcos Jr. for the first time in September in New York on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, he stressed the depth by which the U.S. regards its relations with the Philippines despite some headwinds.

“We’ve had some rocky times, but the fact is it’s a critical, critical relationship, from our perspective. I hope you feel the same way,” Biden said then. Marcos Jr. told him, “We are your partners. We are your allies. We are your friends.”

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Kamala visits DMZ hours after North’s missile tests

North Korea launched two apparent short-range ballistic missiles on Thursday evening, just hours after Harris met South Korean President Yoon Suk-Yeol in Seoul…reports Asian Lite News

US Vice President Kamala Harris has visited the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone dividing the two Koreas, highlighting what she called her country’s “ironclad” commitment to protecting ally South Korea.

During her visit, Harris condemned the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s provocative nuclear rhetoric and ballistic missile launches, in violation of UN Security Council resolutions, and they discussed our response to potential future provocations, including through trilateral cooperation with Japan, according to the statement released by White House.

North Korea launched two apparent short-range ballistic missiles on Thursday evening, just hours after Harris met South Korean President Yoon Suk-Yeol in Seoul.

Notably, the latest launch came a day after nuclear-armed North Korea fired two short-range weapons on Wednesday and one missile on Sunday, making it the fifth test in five days, The Japan Times reported.

President Yoon and Kamala on Thursday shared their concern about North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.

Yoon and Harris met for 85 minutes at the presidential office and discussed a wide range of issues, including ways to strengthen the bilateral relationship, and key regional and international issues, Yonhap News Agency quoted deputy presidential spokesperson Lee Jae-myoung as saying.

“President Yoon and Vice President Harris expressed serious concern about North Korea’s recent ballistic missile launches and legalization of its nuclear force policy,” he said at a press briefing, noting Harris reaffirmed the ironclad US commitment to the defence of South Korea.

The two sides also agreed to plan a visit by Yoon to the US next year to mark the 70th anniversary of the alliance.

On the controversy surrounding Yoon and US President Joe Biden’s meetings in New York last week, Harris said that Washington is not bothered by it at all, according to Lee.

The spokesperson did not elaborate on which controversy Harris was referring to, but it apparently included the uproar in South Korea over Yoon’s remarks caught on hot mic, which were initially reported as including vulgar language in reference to US Congress and Biden.

The his the Vice President’s Harris first visit to South Korea since taking office in January 2021.

The last time a US Vice President visited South Korea was in February 2018, when Mike Pence led a delegation to the PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games.

Harris landed in Seoul just hours after North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the East Sea in apparent protest of an ongoing South Korea-US military exercise involving an American aircraft carrier.

The North had also conducted a similar short-range ballistic missile test on Sunday.

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Don’t come to US, Harris tells Guatemalan migrants

The vice president warned people they would be turned back at the border….reports Asian Lite News

Vice President Kamala Harris on Monday urged would-be migrants in Guatemala not to try to enter the United States illegally, media reported.

Speaking on her first overseas trip since taking office, she said the journey north was dangerous and would mainly benefit people smugglers, the BBC reported.

The vice president warned people they would be turned back at the border.

In a news conference alongside Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei, she warned against illegal migration to the US, saying: “Do not come. Do not come. The United States will continue to enforce our laws and secure our borders.”

“If you come to our border, you will be turned back,” BBC quoted Harris as saying.

Harris said she wanted the US and Guatemala to “work together” to find solutions to “long-standing problems”.

“It must be coupled with relationships of trust. It must be coupled with tangible outcomes, in terms of what we do as leaders to convince people that there is a reason to be hopeful about their future and the future of their children,” Harris was quoted as saying.

Meanwhile, President Giammattei defended his government’s own record of fighting corruption and said the fight against drug trafficking should be an key part of tackling the issue.

The vice president arrived in Guatemala City following a technical issue with her aircraft that delayed the departure.

Harris was welcomed by Foreign Affairs Pedro Brolo ans US Ambassador to Guatemala William Popp at about 6.30 p.m., on Sunday.

Less than half an hour after taking off from a military airfield near Washington, the government plane Harris was travelling on had to return to the airport in order to be changed out, according to spokeswoman Symone Sanders.

“It is a technical issue. There are no major safety concerns,” she said.

Sanders later told reporters that the Air Force Two crew noticed an issue with the landing gear, which was not storing as it should, adding that the plane turned around “out of an abundance of caution”.

Harris’ official visit to Guatemala and Mexico on Monday and Tuesday will focus on migration and economic cooperation.

President Joe Biden has tasked Harris with taking the lead on curbing migration to the US.

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Harris to target immigration in first foreign visit as VP

The trip got off to a rocky start when Harris’ plane returned to Joint Base Andrews in Maryland about 30 minutes after takeoff because of a problem with the landing gear, reports Asian Lite News

Vice President Kamala Harris arrived in Guatemala after some technical issues with her plane, which caused a minor delay in her first international trip as vice president.

“The vice president of the United States, Kamala Harris, arrived in Guatemala this Sunday to begin a work tour that includes a dialogue with the president @DrGiammattei,” the Guatemalan government tweeted.

According to Russian news agency Sputnik, Harris had to return to Joint Base Andrews shortly after her plane took off for Latin America on Sunday. The glitch in the plane’s landing gear was apparently caused by technical issues that forced her to switch to another Air Force Two airplane.

During her first foreign trip as vice president, Harris is expected to meet with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei on Monday. Thereafter, in a follow-up trip to Mexico, Harris will hold talks with President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Tuesday.

Harris’ international trip comes amid the US border crisis, alongside Mexico and Guatemala.

Harris has been tasked by President Joe Biden with addressing the root causes of the spike in migration to the US-Mexico border, and her aides say corruption will be a central focus of her meetings with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei on Monday and Mexico’s Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Tuesday.

“Corruption really does sap the the wealth of any country, and in Central America is at a scale where it is a large percentage of GDP across the region. We see corruption as one of the most important root causes to be dealt with,” said special envoy Ricardo Zuniga.

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Harris is seeking to secure commitments from Guatemala and Mexico for greater cooperation on border security and economic investment, and aides say she will also discuss vaccine sharing during her meetings. But corruption in the region — a far more intractable challenge — will complicate her efforts.

It’s already had a significant impact on her work in Central America. Harris has yet to engage substantively with the leaders of Honduras and El Salvador, who are both embroiled in corruption scandals.

Giammattei has faced criticism over corruption within his own government. Zuniga acknowledged that the U.S. government faces a challenge in working with him but argued Harris was in the country in part to have a direct conversation with the president about this and other issues.

“The best way to deal with these cases where you have a very complex relationship in a country like Guatemala is to talk clearly and plainly as partners, as countries that have to get along” he said.

Harris has laid out an approach centered on creating better opportunities and living conditions in the region through humanitarian and economic aid. She announced plans to send $310 million to provide support for refugees and address food shortages, and recently secured commitments from a dozen companies and organizations to invest in the Northern Triangle countries to promote economic opportunity and job training.

Washington won some goodwill through its vaccine diplomacy this past week. Giammattei and López Obrador both received calls from Harris on Thursday telling them the U.S. would be sending 500,000 doses and 1 million doses, respectively, of COVID-19 vaccine.

While in Guatemala, Harris also plans to meet community leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs. In Mexico, she will speak with female entrepreneurs and hold a roundtable with labor workers.

Kamala Harris

She’s underscored the need to address corruption in public remarks and events. In a May meeting with a number of leading voices on Guatemala’s justice system, she noted her work as a prosecutor and said that “injustice is a root cause of migration.”

“Part of giving people hope is having a very specific commitment to rooting out corruption in the region,” she said.

Harris has also raised the issue during virtual meetings with the leaders of both countries, and aides say she will do it again during meetings on her trip. During their past conversations, they have discussed areas of mutual interest — improving port security, fighting smuggling networks, going after corrupt actors — and the goal of this trip is to turn that talk into action, aides say.

While the vice president will make announcements concerning new efforts at cooperation and new programs, she’s not expected to announce any new aid during her trip.

While in Latin America, Harris will also have to navigate the politics of immigration. Congressional Republicans have criticized both Biden and Harris for deciding not to visit the border, and contend the administration is ignoring what they say is a crisis there. April was the second-busiest month on record for unaccompanied children encountered at the U.S.-Mexico border, following March’s all-time high. The Border Patrol’s total encounters in April were up 3% from March, marking the highest level since April 2000.

Conservatives will be watching Harris closely for any missteps, hoping to drag her into further controversy on an issue that they see as a political winner.

In her efforts to win commitments on corruption from the region’s leaders, Harris can point to a number of moves by the Biden administration last week.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken emphasized the problem during his own recent trip to Central America. The White House issued a memo elevating foreign corruption to a major national security issue, and directed all federal agencies to prioritize it and modernize their foreign corruption-fighting tools.

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Heartbreaking: Kamala Harris on India Covid crisis

Harris’ remarks come as India is battling the devastating second wave of the pandemic that have triggered record number of new Covid-19 cases and deaths…reports Asian Lite News

In an address to the Indian diaspora in the US, Vice President Kamala Harris lamented over the deteriorating Covidd-19 situation India, saying it was “nothing short of heartbreaking”.

“Generations of my family come from India. My mother (Shyamala Gopalan) was born and raised in India. And I have family members who live in India today. The welfare of India is critically important to the US,” Harris said in her pre-recorded message played at a diaspora event hosted by the State Department’s Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA) on Friday.

“The surge of Covid-19 infections and deaths in India is nothing short of heartbreaking. To those of you who have lost loved ones, I send my deepest condolences. As soon as the dire nature of the situation became apparent, our administration took action.

“On Monday, April 26, President Joe Biden spoke with the Prime Minister (Narendra Modi) to offer our support. By Friday, April 30, US military members and civilians were delivering relief on the ground.

“Already, we have delivered refillable oxygen cylinders, with more to come. We have delivered oxygen concentrators, with more to come. We have delivered N95 masks, and have more ready to send. We have delivered doses of Remdesivir to treat Covid patients.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, when our hospital beds were stretched, India sent assistance. And today, we are determined to help India in its hour of need.

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“We do this as friends of India, as members of the Asian Quad, and as part of the global community. I believe that if we continue to work together, across nations and sectors, we will all get through this,” the Vice President added.

In her address, she also acknowledged diaspora groups like Indiaspora and the American India Foundation that “have built bridges between the US and India”.

“And this past year, you have provided vital contributions to Covid-19 relief efforts.”

Kerala covid toll rises

Harris’ remarks come as India is battling the devastating second wave of the pandemic that have triggered record number of new Covid-19 cases and deaths, leading to a shortage in oxygen supplies across the country, including in the national capital of New Delhi.

On Sunday, India reported 4,03,738 new cases, which took the overall tally to 2,22,96,414, the second highest in the world after the US.

Meanwhile, the country’s death toll, currently the third largest after the us and Brazil, increased to 2,42,362.

Sunday’s figure is the fifth highest since India crossed the four-lakh-mark of new Covid cases, while over 3,000 casualties have been reported for the last 11 days.

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Time to prepare for next pandemic: Kamala

Vice President Harris will virtually address the UN body at a time when United States is making efforts to help India fight against the pandemic…reports Asian Lite News

Vice President Kamala Harris will tell the members of the United Nations that now is the time for global leaders to begin serious efforts into how they will respond to the next global pandemic, according to media report.

Vice President Harris will virtually address the UN body at a time when United States is making efforts to send Covid-hit India the raw material needed for making Covishield and other products needed in the fight against the COVID-19 surge overtaking the nation.

“At the same time that the world works to get through this pandemic, we also know that we must prepare for the next,” Harris will say, according to excerpts of the speech obtained by The Associated Press.

Harris, according to the excerpts, will broadly outline how the administration thinks the US and other nations should consider focusing their attention. The steps include improving accessibility to health systems, investing in science, health workers and the well-being of women, and surging capacity for personal protective equipment and vaccine and test manufacturing.

Harris’ speech will be co-hosted by UN permanent representatives of Argentina, Japan, Norway and South Africa.

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Meanwhile the overall global Covid-19 caseload has topped 146.8 million, while the deaths have surged to more than 3.10 million, according to the Johns Hopkins University.

In its latest update on Monday morning, the University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) revealed that the current global caseload and death toll stood at 146,830,782 and 3,106,384, respectively.

People wearing face masks visit the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool in Washington, D.C during covid 19 surge

The US is the worst-hit country with the world’s highest number of cases and deaths at 32,077,076 and 572,200, respectively, according to the CSSE.

In terms of infections, India follows in the second place with 16,960,172 cases.

The other countries with more than two million confirmed coronavirus cases are Brazil (14,340,787), France (5,559,121), Russia (4,708,640), Turkey (4,629,969), the UK (4,420,443), Italy (3,962,674), Spain (3,468,617), Germany (3,306,692), Argentina (2,860,884), Colombia (2,774,464), Poland (2,758,856), Iran (2,396,204) and Mexico (2,328,391), the CSSE figures showed.

In terms of deaths, Brazil comes second with 390,797 fatalities.

Nations with a death toll of over 50,000 are Mexico (214,947), India (192,311), the UK (127,681), Italy (119,238), Russia (106,434), France (103,017), Germany (81,671), Spain (77,591), Colombia (71,351), Iran (69,574), Poland (65,415), Argentina (61,644), Peru (59,724) and South Africa (54,148).

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