President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the Group of Seven summit on Saturday sought to boost regional cooperation against China while facing a standoff in Washington over how to ensure the US can avoid a default.
Hoping to stave off an outcome that would rock the global economy and prove a boon for Beijing, Biden began his third day in Japan at the annual gathering of the world’s most powerful democracies with a staff briefing on the latest developments in the Japan Showdown on how the federal debt limit can be raised.
The president on Saturday also pushed for meetings aimed at questioning China’s expansion across the Indo-Pacific, including with the so-called quad partnership made up of the US, Australia, Japan and India.
A meeting of Quad members was originally scheduled for next week in Sydney, but their meeting has been pushed back to the sidelines of the G7 summit to allow Biden to return to Washington earlier on Sunday in hopes of finalizing an agreement to raise the debt ceiling before the Den USA is running out of money to pay their bills.
The shortened trip has heightened a fundamental tension that has shaped Biden’s presidency: while he seeks to signal to the world that the US is retaking the mantle of global leadership, domestic drama keeps getting in his way at crucial moments.
The president largely stayed out of the public eye at the summit, refrained from making major public statements and left the heads of state and government dinner early on Friday. Instead, he sits in front of a video monitor in a room off his hotel suite, where staff in Washington keep him updated on the back and forth of the debt ceiling negotiations.
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan acknowledged that world leaders had been pressuring Biden over the debt limit standoff in Washington. But spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said that while there was keen interest in how the president would resolve a domestic political showdown with geopolitical implications, there was no panic — at least not yet.
“It’s not a hair-on-fire situation,” she said.
Biden was also scheduled to hold a bilateral meeting with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on the sidelines of the summit, rather than visiting his country for the Quad Summit later this week. US officials said the trip would be postponed to a later date, and Biden has invited Albanese on a state visit to Washington as consolation for the move.
The President also sent Secretary of State Antony Blinken to take his place at a summit of Pacific Island nations in Papua New Guinea on Monday. This presidential freeze was also lifted to bring Biden back to Washington more quickly.
Biden’s visit would have been the first by an American president to the country. The Pacific island nations are being aggressively courted by the US and China as the two superpowers compete for influence in parts of the world where shipping lanes are vital.
In Hiroshima, Biden and other world leaders should agree on a common framework for improving their own economic resilience – a recognition that high trade volumes with China have become more of a risk than an opportunity for mature economies.
Sullivan said the G7 leaders would recognize that “we are trying to work with China on matters of mutual interest.” And also that we will work to address our major concerns about China in a number of areas.” He reiterated a phrase often used by G7 leaders that the group aims to “reduce risk and not decouple from China.”