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Kamala Harris holds Vietnamese round-table on disabled and LGBT rights

Vice President Kamala Harris held a roundtable discussion on LGBTQ and disabled rights with Vietnamese social advocacy organizations in Hanoi on Thursday.

Harris has been closing out her visit to Southeast Asia, which also saw her donate a million Pfizer vaccines to Vietnam, amid criticism of her reluctance to speak on the Afghanistan crisis.

A photo from the roundtable posted by a reporter for The New York Times show Nguyet Van Do, the founder and director Live & Learn for Environment and Community, was one of the attendees. It was not yet clear who else participated. 

Her team billed the roundtable discussion as a ‘changemakers’ event with civil society and business leaders before beginning the trip back home to the U.S. – ending the weeklong trip to Singapore and Vietnam.

Harris had taken the trip in a bid to strengthen U.S. relations with the two countries and affirm the commitment to a region that’s grown increasingly important to American efforts to counter China’s influence globally.

Vice President Kamala Harris held a roundtable discussion on LGBTQ and disabled rights with Vietnamese social advocacy organizations in Hanoi on Thursday.

Harris has been closing out her visit to Southeast Asia, elevating activists in a region of the world known for its challenges and restrictions to human rights

Harris has been closing out her visit to Southeast Asia, elevating activists in a region of the world known for its challenges and restrictions to human rights

Her presence in Southeast Asia comes amid criticism of the Biden administration’s handling of the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and her apparent reluctance to speak on the crisis.

During her trip, Harris had met with leaders in both Singapore and Vietnam to discuss ways in which the U.S. can deepen economic and defense ties. 

She unveiled new agreements with Singapore to combat cyberthreats and tackle climate change, and aid to Vietnam to develop economic opportunities and combat the coronavirus, among other things.

Harris also spent the trip ramping up Biden administration rhetoric toward China, issuing repeated warnings to the country to end its aggression in the disputed South China Sea.

‘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,’ she said Wednesday.

On her trip home, Harris will make a stop at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii to meet with servicemembers. 

She’ll then turn her focus to U.S. politics at an event in the San Francisco area for California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is facing a recall attempt.

Chinese officials exploited Harris’ plane delay to Vietnam on Tuesday by sending a diplomat to offer the country two million COVID vaccines ahead of Harris’s announcement that the US would donate a million shots.

Her team billed the roundtable discussion as a 'changemakers' event with civil society and business leaders before beginning the trip back home to the U.S.

Her team billed the roundtable discussion as a ‘changemakers’ event with civil society and business leaders before beginning the trip back home to the U.S.

Harris was set to announce a United States donation of 1 million Pfizer doses to the people of Vietnam on her trip, in an effort to build closer ties with the former enemy to draw back Chinese influence in the area, according to the Washington Post.

But when Harris’ team experienced a three-hour flight delay, after her office was made aware of an investigation into two possible cases of the so-called Havana Syndrome in Hanoi, Chinese officials took advantage.

They sent their ambassador to the country, Xiong Bo, to met with Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh and offer 2 million doses of its own Sinopharm COVID vaccine.

Sinopharm’s vaccine is less effective at preventing COVID than the Pfizer shot, and blocks around 79 per cent of infections – whereas Pfizer is believed to be around 94 per cent effective against the virus.  

Vice President Kamala Harris met with Vietnam Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh to discuss China's growing influence in the South China Sea on Wednesday

Vice President Kamala Harris met with Vietnam Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh to discuss China’s growing influence in the South China Sea on Wednesday

In return, the Vietnamese prime minister thanked Bo and said his country ‘does not ally with one country to fight against another,’ state-run media reported.

Vietnam is seeing a surge in COVID cases, mainly due to the highly virulent Delta variant, according to the Post, with Ho Chi Minh City – formerly known as Saigon – under strict lockdown, enforced by the military, which is delivering food to residents.

China’s vaccine donations would go to the Vietnamese military, while the United States’ donation – which Harris announced on Wednesday – was intended for the general public.

She said the doses would begin to arrive within the next 24 hours, as the United States opens a regional branch of the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Hanoi.

In total, the Post reports, the United States has donated 6 million COVID vaccine doses to the country, while China sent 500,000 doses to the country in June.

And in addition to the new vaccine doses, the U.S. will provide $23 million in American Rescue Plan and emergency funding through the Centers for Disease Control and the United States Agency for International Development to help Vietnam expand distribution and access to vaccines, combat the COVID-19 pandemic and prepare for future disease threats. 

Vice President Kamala Harris was set to announce the United States' donation of 1 million COVID vaccine doses to Vietnam on Tuesday, but her flight was delayed

Chinese officials reportedly took advantage of the delay to send their diplomat, Xiong Bo, to meet with the Vietnamese prime minister and offer the country 2 million COVID vaccine doses

Vice President Kamala Harris was set to announce the United States’ donation of 1 million COVID vaccine doses to Vietnam, but when her plane was delayed, Chinese officials reportedly sent their diplomat, Xiong Bo, right, to meet with the Vietnamese prime minister and offer the country 2 million COVID vaccine doses

The Defense Department is also delivering 77 freezers to store the vaccines throughout the country.   

But the vice president’s arrival was delayed Tuesday due to what US officials called an ‘anomalous health incident’ in Hanoi, an apparent reference to the so-called ‘Havana syndrome’ which has afflicted US diplomats in several countries including China and Russia.

The syndrome was first noticed at the US Embassy in Havana, Cuba in late 2016.

Diplomats there complained of a variety of vague symptoms, including sudden vertigo, nausea, headaches and head pressure, sometimes accompanied by a ‘piercing directional noise,’ according to CNN

Some have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries and continue to suffer from debilitating headaches and other health issues years later. 

A Senate committee said earlier this year that the number of suspected cases appeared to be on the rise.

It is not clear what causes the syndrome and it has led to unproven allegations that Russians or others used sonic or other high-intensity electronic devices to physically harm US diplomats. 

The delay, the Post reports, enabled China to deliver its own COVID vaccines to the country amid tensions on the South China Sea, where China has expanded its influence into other country’s territories.

Meanwhile, former The View Host Meghan McCain criticized Harris on Wednesday for laying flowers at the site where McCain’s father was shot down during the Vietnam War, saying that Harris should be focused on evacuating people from Afghanistan. 

Harris tweeted a photo of herself Wednesday laying flowers at a monument on Trúc Bạch Lake in Hanoi, where John McCain almost drowned in 1967 after being shot down while flying a US Navy bombing mission. He was then captured by the North Vietnamese and held as a prisoner of war for five-and-a-half years.

Her tweet said: ‘Today, on the three-year anniversary of his passing, I paid my respects to an American hero, Senator John McCain’

‘At this site in 1967, then-Lieutenant Commander McCain was shot down. We honor his sacrifice in Vietnam, and the sacrifice of all our men and women in uniform.’

But Meghan was quick to take offense, and responded: If you want to honor my dads legacy on this anniversary of his death – you would spend every second making sure every single American and Afghan ally is out of harms way.’ 

‘He was nothing if not someone who understood sacrifice and loyalty to the people he served with.’ 

Kamala Harris was criticized by Meghan McCain after sharing this snap of where McCain's father John was shot down while fighting in the Vietnam WAr

Kamala Harris was criticized by Meghan McCain after sharing this snap of where McCain’s father John was shot down while fighting in the Vietnam WAr  

On Wednesday, she asked the VP to ensure 'every single American and Afghan ally' is saved

On Wednesday, she asked the VP to ensure ‘every single American and Afghan ally’ is saved

The vice president brought flowers to the memorial, located at Trúc Bạch Lake in Hanoi

The vice president brought flowers to the memorial, located at Trúc Bạch Lake in Hanoi

Harris, a Democrat from California, was elected to the Senate in 2016 and served about a year and a half alongside McCain, who represented Arizona. 

McCain ran against Obama in the 2008 presidential election, became one of the Trump administration’s most vocal Republican critics, and died of cancer in August 2018 aged 81. 

The late Republican was born in 1936 in the Panama Canal Zone. His father was a four-star admiral, and he followed in his footsteps when he enrolled in the US Naval Academy, graduating in 1958.

The US has evacuated 87,900 people from Afghanistan since the end of July, according to the White House. 

The US has operated multiple military, and some commercial, flights in a quest to save as many people as they can from Taliban rule, though many argue the efforts are falling short.

Meghan has posted videos of Afghans trawling through sewage outside of the Kabul airport, desperate to to be saved by US forces. 

She’s previously criticized the Biden administration’s handling of the withdrawal from Afghanistan, which the US has occupied since 2001.

‘Biden is unfit to lead and I am nothing short of disgusted he and his staff can’t seem to be bothered to leave their vacation during an international crisis of our own creation,’ the former host has said. 

‘There should be an emergency congressional hearing before more innocent lives are lost. My heart is broken, this tragedy will absolutely haunt our country. Also – every single Afghan refugee fleeing must be granted a safe haven in America!’    


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