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Joe Biden has framed his presidency as a struggle of democracy versus autocracy and placed the US in opposition to Russia and China.
With both Russian President Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping absent from the G20 meeting in New Delhi over the weekend, Biden seized the opportunity to appear alongside the leaders of India and Saudi Arabia, two countries the US has criticized for their records on human rights but whose economic support it very much needs.
In Vietnam, Biden forged deeper ties with the communist nation, announcing deals, including between Vietnam Airlines and the US company Boeing, meant to embed the US in the emerging market and invest in friendly countries, a strategy known as “friend-shoring.”
At the G20 in New Delhi, Biden, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman appeared together and announced participation in the new India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor.
CNN’s Nadeen Ebrahim notes in the Meanwhile in the Middle East newsletter that the planned trade route will connect India to the Middle East and Europe “through railways and ports,” and could be viewed as a direct challenge to China’s yearslong One Belt, One Road effort to connect itself with the rest of the world.
Adds Ebrahim: “The ambitious plan shows that the US can count on its Middle East allies in its efforts to contain China’s rise, but also how the Gulf states try to find a balance between traditional allies like the US and emerging partners like China in what they see as a world order that is no longer unipolar.”
Biden said the announcement of the trade route comes “at an inflection point in history” and that investment in infrastructure across developing countries will have a rippling effect across generations.
But the interests of these disparate countries are not always aligned. CNN’s Kevin Liptak notes that Biden and other Western leaders had to tone down a joint G20 statement regarding Russia’s war on Ukraine.
The final group statement did not single out Russia, but instead said “all states must refrain from the threat or use of force to seek territorial acquisition.”
China’s Xi had not missed a G20 for more than a decade, according to CNN’s Nectar Gan, who writes an interesting analysis about Xi’s apparent plan to reshape global governance.
Xi did attend the recent BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) summit.
Viewed from the lens of China’s great power rivalry with the United States, analysts say Xi’s expected no-show at the G20 could also signal his disillusion with the existing global system of governance – and structures he sees as too dominated by American influence.
Instead, Xi may be prioritizing multilateral forums that fit into China’s own vision for how the world should be governed – such as the recently concluded BRICS summit and the upcoming Belt and Road Forum.
There was more evidence of the ongoing effort to counter the rise of China as the economic and political antipode of the US, when Biden cemented top diplomatic relations with Vietnam, which is a key emerging market but also a communist nation that the nonprofit Freedom House lists as “not free.”
Michelle Toh and Mihir Melwani explain the concept of “friend-shoring,” a favorite term of US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, in a report for CNN Business: “The practice refers to the movement of supply chains toward allies in part to shield businesses from political friction.”
The pandemic hastened a move by corporations to diversify their production hubs outside of China.
CNN’s Liptak and Jeremy Diamond also note that Biden’s advisers have struggled to make the American public understand a president who seems to thrive on these long trips to meet with other heads of state. Most US voters, on the other hand, are concerned about his age and his physical and mental competence.
From Liptak and Diamond:
Reconciling those competing visions will be a singular challenge for Biden as he ramps up his reelection campaign. For the president and his advisers, foreign trips – unfurling at a breakneck pace, with little sleep – are often an opportunity to dispel notions that the 80-year-old president is too old to do the job and are increasingly leaning on these trips to make their case.
Traveling to New Delhi and Hanoi over the past several days, Biden sought to seize the opportunity. He darted from leader to leader for quick informal talks in the summit hall, seeking to cultivate the interpersonal connections that have been his hallmark.
A problem for Biden is that the video many Americans might encounter from the trip is an awkward moment at a news conference – press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre ended his appearance while he was still answering questions from reporters. Moments earlier Biden had engaged in a roundabout explanation of his use of the term “lying dog-faced pony soldier,” which is a mangling of a line from a John Wayne movie.