When US Vice President Kamala Harris visits Palawan today, many will be listening to echoes of her speech – from as far as Washington, Canberra and Beijing and neighboring capitals from East Asia and Southeast Asia.
The 58-year-old Harris, the highest ranking official from the two-year-old Biden administration to visit the Philippines, has just met separately with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Vice President Sara Duterte-Carpio following her arrival from Bangkok Sunday night.
She is expected to deliver a speech underscoring the importance of the international law and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea as well as meet with local communities affected by climate change.
Ranging from energy to military and other funding opportunities, the US will be launching new programs and opportunities for partnerships with the Philippines during Harris’ visit.
One of these is a new program with World Hope that will provide support in combating the online sexual exploitation of children (OSEC) and reach out to OSEC survivors in the Philippines.
Washington also said it seeks to create energy and food security dialogues with the Philippines.
The US Department of Energy, the US Department of State and the Philippine Department of Energy will form the energy dialogue, which will focus on short and long-term energy planning, offshore wind development and grid stability and power transmission.
The food security dialogue will be held with the US Department of Agriculture, where both the US Agency for International Development and the US Department of State will participate, along with its Philippine counterparts.
But some definitely will go beyond undertones from promises of enhancing bilateral Washington-Manila ties, given the disquieted situation in the South China Sea, where overlapping claims lie.
If anything, President Marcos Jr. earlier said he does not believe Vice President Harris’ visit to Palawan will further fuel the tensions between the Philippines and China, saying it will not cause problems.
But a senior Washington official has stressed that Harris’ visit to the Philippines and Palawan underscores America’s commitment to defending treaty ally the Philippines and reinforces the former’s treaty alliance in Asia and strengthens economic ties.
Philippine Ambassador to Washington Jose Manuel Romualdez himself 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 has told Associated Press.
“This visit is a significant step in showing how serious the United States views this situation now.”
Much is expected from the visit. Many ears and eyes are hearkening.