US President Joe Biden reacts at a working session during the G7 Leaders Summit in Hiroshima on May 20, 2023. AFP
Hoping to avert an outcome that would rattle the global economy and prove to be a boon to Beijing, Biden began his third day in Japan at the annual meeting of the world’s most powerful democracies with a briefing by staff on the latest fits and starts in the showdown over how to raise the federal debt limit.
The president on Saturday was also squeezing in meetings aimed at challenging China’s buildout across the Indo-Pacific, including with the so-called Quad partnership made up of the U.S., Australia, Japan and India.
The Quad members originally had been scheduled to meet in Sydney next week, but rescheduled their meeting for the sidelines of the G7 to allow Biden to return to Washington earlier on Sunday in hopes of finalizing a deal to increase the debt ceiling before the U.S. runs out of cash to pay its bills.
The shortened trip has reinforced a fundamental tension shaping Biden’s presidency: As he has tried to signal to the world that the U.S. is reclaiming the mantle of global leadership, at key moments, domestic dramas keep getting in the way.
The president has largely stayed out of the public eye at the summit, forgoing big public statements and leaving Friday’s leader dinner early. He's been spending time instead by a video monitor in a room next to his hotel suite, where aides in Washington have been keeping him apprised of the back and forth of debt limit talks.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan acknowledged that world leaders have been pressing Biden about the debt limit standoff in Washington. But press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that while there was intense interest in how the president would resolve a domestic showdown that has geopolitical ramifications, there was no panic — at least not yet.
“It’s not a hair-on-fire type of situation,” she said.
Also on the margins of the summit, Biden met with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in lieu of what had been a planned visit to his country later this week for the Quad summit. U.S. officials said the trip would be rescheduled, and Biden has invited Albanese to Washington for a state visit as consolation for change-up.
Biden apologized for skipping Australia but Albanese said he understood the circumstances.
“I would have done exactly the same thing,” he told Biden, adding, “I'm very much looking forward to the state visit.”
The leaders signed a compact pledging to deepen their partnership on developing the raw materials used in clean energy technologies — as they each seek to move supply away from reliance on China. They also issued a joint statement outlining new areas of cooperation in space, trade and defense.
The president was also dispatching Secretary of State Antony Blinken to fill his spot at a summit of Pacific Island nations in Papua New Guinea on Monday. That presidential stop, too, was scrapped in order to get Biden back to Washington more quickly.
Biden’s visit would have been the first by an American president to the country. Pacific island nations are being aggressively courted by the U.S. 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 were set to agree on a shared framework for improving their own economic resilience — a recognition that high levels of trade with China have become more of a risk than an opportunity for mature economies.
Sullivan said that the G7 leaders would acknowledge that “we do seek to cooperate with China on matters of mutual interest. And also that we will work to address our significant concerns that we have with China in a range of areas.” He repeated a phrase often used by G7 leaders that the group is looking to “de-risk, not decouple from China."