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Vice-President Kamala Harris has delivered a sharp rebuke to China for its incursions in the South China Sea, warning its actions there amount to "coercion" and "intimidation" and affirming that the US will support its allies in the region against Beijing's advances.
"We know that Beijing continues to coerce, to intimidate and to make claims to the vast majority of the South China Sea," she said in a major foreign policy speech on Tuesday in Singapore in which she laid out the Biden administration's vision for the Indo-Pacific.
"Beijing's actions continue to undermine the rules-based order and threaten the sovereignty of nations."
The speech sought to cement the US commitment to supporting its allies in an area of growing importance to the Biden administration, which has made countering China's influence globally a centrepiece of its foreign policy.
Harris, who is on a weeklong swing through Southeast Asia, declared that the US "stands with our allies and our partners" in the face of threats from China.
The address the Gardens by the Bay waterfront park offered an opportunity for the former state attorney-general and US senator to prove her fluidity with diplomatic and security issues.
Harris' remarks also come during a critical moment for the United States as the Biden administration seeks to further solidify its pivot towards Asia while America's decades-long focus on the Middle East comes to a messy end with the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.
On Monday, Harris told sailors aboard a US combat ship at the Changi naval base in Singapore that "a big part of the history of the 21st century will be written about this very region" and their work defending the region was pivotal.
Harris also met on Monday with Singapore President Halimah Yacob and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
The vice-president's office announced a number of agreements out of that meeting aimed at combating cyberthreats, tackling climate change, addressing the COVID-19 pandemic and alleviating supply chain issues.
After her speech, Harris will hold a roundtable discussion with business leaders on supply chain issues, and then travel to Vietnam, where she will meet top officials on Wednesday.