US’s Kamala Harris continues Vietnam trip despite health threat

Before vice president departs, US government says possible Havana syndrome case in Hanoi, which includes symptoms such as nausea and dizziness.

Harris arrived in the Southeast Asian country’s capital on Tuesday night, after a three-hour delay in Singapore that the US government blamed on reports that someone in Hanoi may have been hit with the Havana syndrome, a condition of unknown origin with symptoms including dizziness, nausea, migraines and memory lapses.

The incident upstaged a bid by President Joe Biden’s top deputy to woo the allies Washington hopes will help it challenge China’s assertive foreign policy in the region.

Beijing, meanwhile, attempted to stage its own diplomatic coup with a surprise meeting with Vietnam’s prime minister and a donation of two million COVID-19 vaccines to the country.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the Havana syndrome case was reported in Vietnam before Harris’s departure but not confirmed. A safety assessment was done before sending Harris to the country, she said.

“The Vice President’s office was made aware of a report of a recent possible anomalous health incident in Hanoi,” the US Embassy said.

Some 200 US officials and kin, including CIA officers, have been sickened by the “Havana syndrome,” CIA Director William Burns has said.

A US National Academy of Sciences panel in December found that a plausible theory is that “directed energy” beams caused the syndrome, which is so named because it first was reported by American officials based in 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 is withholding definitive conclusions pending further investigation. Moscow denies any involvement.

Vietnam picks no sides

The incident came as Washington faces icy relations with another global competitor, China.

“The Prime Minister affirmed that Vietnam adheres to an independent, self-reliant, multilateral, and diverse foreign policy and is a responsible member of the international community,” the Vietnamese government said in a statement.

US Vice President Kamala Harris leaves her plane as she arrives at the airport in Hanoi on Tuesday night [Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters]

“Vietnam does not align itself with one country against another,” it said.

Territorial disputes in the South China Sea should be settled according to international law and “high-level common sense,” it said.

The US administration has called rivalry with China “the biggest geopolitical test” of the century.

During the meeting, Chinh thanked the ambassador for the vaccine donation. It was not immediately clear which vaccine China had donated.

Vietnam had successfully contained the coronavirus for most of last year but since April has been dealing with a large COVID-19 outbreak in Ho Chi Minh City, driven by the highly contagious Delta variant of the virus.

Just under two percent of its 98 million people are fully vaccinated.


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