The Chinese government seized on a scheduling delay during Vice President Kamala Harris’ ongoing trip to Vietnam to undercut the White House’s planned outreach regarding COVID-19 vaccine supply, according to a report Wednesday.
Harris was set to announce a U.S. donation of one million doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine as part of a broader effort to cultivate closer ties with Vietnam and counteract Beijing’s influence in the region.
When Harris’ team experienced a three-hour delay ahead of her planned meeting with Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc, China sent its own diplomat to meet with Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh and offer two million vaccine doses, the Washington Post reported.
The Vietnamese prime minister thanked Beijing’s diplomat and said Vietnam “does not ally with one country to fight against another,” according to Vietnamese state-run media.
The White House could not immediately be reached for comment on the report.
China donated its two million doses to Vietnam’s military, while the U.S. donation was for the country’s general population. In all, the U.S. has donated six million doses to Vietnam.
Beijing’s last-minute move was the latest sign of the growing geopolitical rivalry between the U.S. and China. Harris called on Vietnam to join the Biden administration to counteract China’s effort to expand its influence in the South China Sea despite international opposition.
“We need to find ways to pressure and raise the pressure, frankly, on Beijing to abide by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and to challenge its bullying and excessive maritime claims,” Harris said at the meeting.
Harris expressed support for the deployment of another U.S. Coast Guard vessel to help defend Vietnam’s interests in the South China Sea. She added that the U.S. would “maintain a strong presence” in the region.
Harris’ flight to Vietnam was delayed by hours on Tuesday amid concerns about a possible case of “Havana Syndrome,” a mysterious illness that has already sickened more than 200 U.S. government officials around the world, according to CIA Director William Burns. Earlier this week, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the case was not yet confirmed.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.