HANOI, Aug.24 (Reuters) – Vice President Kamala Harris continued her trip to Vietnam on Tuesday after delaying the visit due to concerns over a health incident potentially linked to the mysterious Havana Syndrome.
Harris arrived in the Southeast Asian nation’s capital after a three-hour delay in Singapore that the U.S. government blamed on reports that someone in Hanoi may have been the target of Havana Syndrome, a disease of unknown origin with symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, migraines and memory loss.
The incident overshadowed an attempt by President Senior Deputy Joe Biden to woo allies that Washington hopes will help it challenge China’s assertive foreign policy in the region.
Beijing, meanwhile, tried to stage its own diplomatic coup with a surprise meeting in Vietnam and a donation of 2 million COVID-19 vaccines to the country.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the Havana Syndrome case was reported in Vietnam before Harris left but was not confirmed. A security assessment was carried out before Harris was dispatched to the country, she said.
“The vice president’s office has been made aware of a report of a recent possible abnormal health incident in Hanoi,” the local US embassy said.
Some 200 US officials and relatives, including CIA officers, have been sickened by “Havana Syndrome,” CIA Director William Burns said.
In December, a panel from the United States National Academy of Sciences discovered that a plausible theory is that the “directed energy” beams caused the syndrome, which is so named because it has been reported to the first time by US officials based at the US Embassy in Cuba in 2016.
The CIA sees a “very strong possibility” that the syndrome is intentionally caused and that Russia could be responsible, but withholding definitive conclusions pending further investigation. Moscow denies any involvement.
VIETNAM SAYS IT DOESN’T TAKE ANY CT
The incident came as Washington faces a frosty relationship with another global competitor, China.
As Harris’ trip to Vietnam was delayed, Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh held an unannounced meeting with Chinese Ambassador Xiong Bo, in which Chinh said Vietnam did not align with a country against another.
Earlier on Tuesday, Harris accused Beijing of coercion and intimidation to support claims in the South China Sea, her most pointed comments on China during a visit to Southeast Asia, a region she said , is essential to the security of the United States.
“The prime minister affirmed that Vietnam adheres to an independent, autonomous, multilateral and diverse foreign policy and is a responsible member of the international community,” the Vietnamese government said in a statement.
“Vietnam does not line up with one country against another,” he said.
Territorial disputes in the South China Sea should be settled in accordance with international law and “high-level common sense,” he said.
The US administration has called the rivalry with China the “biggest geopolitical test” of the century.
“The fact that the Chinese ambassador insisted on meeting the Vietnamese prime minister shortly before Harris’ disembarkation shows how worried Beijing is that its Communist neighbor is leaning towards the United States,” said Murray Hiebert, a Southeast Asia expert at the Center for Strategic and International in Washington. Studies.
During the meeting, Chinh thanked the Ambassador for donating vaccines. It was not immediately clear what vaccine China had given.
Vietnam has managed to contain the coronavirus for most of last year, but since April it has faced a large outbreak of COVID-19 in Ho Chi Minh City, caused by the highly contagious delta variant of the virus. Just under 2% of its 98 million inhabitants are fully vaccinated.
Reporting by James Pearson and Nandita Bose; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom, Steve Holland and Daphne Psaledakis in Washington; Editing by Trevor Hunnicutt, Angus MacSwan and Jonathan Oatis
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