Opening Photo: Vice President Kamala Harris delivers remarks at Gardens By The Bay in Singapore, reaffirming the U.S. commitment to the Indo-Pacific. Photo courtesy of Embassy Singapore
By Kevin O’Connor and Hazlina Abdul Halim
Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit to Singapore, Aug. 22-24, was a series of historic firsts. The trip marked the vice president’s first trip to the region, the highest-level U.S. official to come to the country since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the first female vice president to visit Singapore. All 24 agencies working under Mission authority pulled together to ensure the trip was a success. Embassy Singapore and the Singaporean government understood the need for a robust COVID-19 mitigation plan. As such, Embassy Singapore worked with the White House and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to craft a safety plan that included traveling exclusively by military aircraft, controlling movements and exposure of the advance team to the general Singaporean public, and a rigorous testing regime.
To implement this plan, the Defense Attaché Office coordinated nine separate military flights for more than 350 people into Singapore, all of whom had to abide by strict, safe management measures, and regular COVID-19 testing. To manage controlled movements by the advance team, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s Singapore office coordinated more than 1,100 separate restricted personnel movements for the advance team and the main delegation. Finally, the Regional Medical Office and the management team helped coordinate more than 2,000 COVID-19 tests for the advance team, the delegation, and the air crew.
The timing of Harris’ visit coincided with the celebration of 55 years of diplomatic relations between the United States and Singapore. Moreover, Embassy Singapore’s Chargé d’Affaires Rafik Mansour became the first chief of mission in Asia to welcome the vice president. The day Harris arrived, Singapore’s most-viewed news network “CNA”, aired a documentary examining how the U.S.’ benign presence in the region contributes to peace, security, and prosperity throughout Southeast Asia.
Singapore commemorated Harris’ visit by presenting her with her own orchid hybrid, the Papilionanda Kamala Harris; she joins a long list of dignitaries honored with a personalized orchid hybrid.
Harris met with Singapore’s first female head of state, President Halimah Yacob, an International Visitor Leadership Program alumna. The two principals discussed the critical importance of bilateral ties and women’s empowerment—a subject close to their hearts.
As customarily done during state visits, Harris and Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Hsien Loong held a virtual press conference following their bilateral meeting. In the press conference, Harris reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to working with Indo-Pacific allies and partners to uphold the rules-based international order and freedom of navigation, including in the South China Sea. Harris also toured Changi Naval Base where she greeted U.S. sailors aboard USS Tulsa, a littoral combat ship, and thanked them for their service. The vice president’s visit to the base underscored the strong defense and security ties between Singapore and the United States.
At Singapore’s iconic Gardens by the Bay, Harris delivered a highly anticipated foreign policy speech outlining the Biden-Harris Administration’s vision in the Indo-Pacific Region. Approximately 100 invited guests attended in person and thousands more joined via livestream. The vice president reiterated America’s commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific, and announced the U.S. offer to host the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in 2023.
Harris capped off her meetings in Singapore by joining local leaders and business representatives to discuss the importance of supply chain resilience. The vice president highlighted collaboration and coordination as a key to meet demand and tackle disruptions, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Overall, media and political analysts lauded the vice president’s visit as a success. Embassy Singapore reached more than 2.27 million people digitally throughout the visit. The visit emphasized the strength of bilateral ties between Singapore and the United States, and the importance of working together with allies to address challenges across the region.
As with any high-level visit, the embassy community welcomed the opportunity for a meet and greet with the vice president. Although COVID-19 restrictions limited in-person participation, hundreds of families joined virtually. In her remarks, the vice president thanked Embassy Singapore staff and families for their hard work and dedication.
Kevin O’Connor is the information officer at Embassy Singapore. Hazlina Abdul Halim is the media coordinator at Embassy Singapore.