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Biden’s G-7 summit clouded by home debt limit drama

The president’s trip to Asia was filled with dualities.

Biden opened his closing press conference in Hiroshima by taking a tough stance in the debt talks. Republicans, he said, cannot make a bipartisan deal “just on their partisan terms.” He briefly pivoted to outline the foreign policy developments that emerged from the meetings here, saying the summit “showed unity of purpose” within the G-7. “We are taking on the challenges that matter most to the world,” he said.

But the question-and-answer session that followed largely focused on the mess in Washington.

Presidents often have to juggle several things at once. Before starting his final day of meetings here, Biden was again briefed on the debt limit talks and asked aides to schedule a phone call with GOP House Speaker Kevin McCarthy after he takes off on Sunday. Hiroshima evening.

It was one of many instances during this truncated Pacific trip that shed light on some of the pressures facing Biden’s presidency and the approaches he has taken to counter them: his outward calm in a moment of chronic chaos, his enduring belief that the bigger picture matters more than fleeting controversies, and, above all, his success in uniting America’s allies while striving to bridge divisions at home.

“The past few days have once again underscored the importance of America’s global leadership,” Biden said. “The security and prosperity of the American people are greatly enhanced by working together with our closest allies and partners to build a future of greater economic strength and resilience and a more peaceful and stable world.”

Although overshadowed by national news, this summit was historic, characterized by a clear momentum behind several multilateral initiatives and an increasingly coherent alliance. The unexpected personal presence of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy coincided with renewed efforts by the G-7 to ensure that his country resists Russian aggression. The group expressed its toughest stance on China’s coercive economic practices while accelerating a broader shift toward a new industrial policy — an effort to reduce dependence on Beijing by bolstering manufacturing and diversifying supply chains, expanding commitments to fight climate change and lifting up the developing world.

“There is no turning back. This is an inflection point for a new, more relevant G-7,” said Rahm Emanuel, the US Ambassador to Japan. He highlighted the actions on supply chains, semiconductors and infrastructure financing to counter China as an issue of “economic security, national security and energy security”, a response, he said, “to the three C that have turned the world upside down: Covid, conflict and coercion”.

The summit ended on a high note on Sunday. Days after announcing that the United States would back down and participate in a joint effort to train Ukrainian pilots on fourth-generation aircraft, including F-16 jets, Biden met with Zelenskyy and announced a new $375 million defense assistance program. “Together, with the entire G-7, we have Ukraine’s back,” he said.

He preceded that by leading a historic trilateral meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol. The two longtime adversaries, rattled by North Korea’s missile tests, have opened the door to coordination on economic and security issues, largely in response to Biden’s encouragement and mediation.

“G-7 summits are usually nerd nirvanas, producing long pronouncements on many issues that scholars examine to determine the direction in which the world’s major democracies are moving, usually incrementally,” said John Herbst, former ambassador in Ukraine. “Hiroshima was different. It was rich in substance and symbolism indicating that the great democracies of the world recognize the dangers, geopolitical and economic, posed by the two authoritarian revisionist powers, China and Russia.

Allies moving more confidently at the same pace reflected not only a shared awareness of the threats posed by autocrats and a changing world, but also confidence in Biden. And yet many remain somewhat concerned about the stability of American politics as a whole, riveted and wondering about the debt limit drama unfolding at home and, more privately, wondering about the position of the president while the first polls show him no safe bet for a second term.

Biden’s relatively lower profile on the world stage provided a major contrast to his predecessor, Donald Trump, who rocked high points with his attention-hungry theatrics, turning bilateral meetings into rolling press conferences that left little time for private and substantive discussions.

Throughout the summit, Biden shared warm moments with numerous heads of state, including German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron. Among European leaders, new Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni seemed the most eager to establish a personal rapport with Biden. Despite their ideological differences – Meloni being a right-wing leader – she is an outspoken transatlanticist, and her strong support for Ukraine came as a pleasant surprise to US officials.

According to Italian officials, “Biden walked up to her, kissed her and said some really nice words” about the recent deadly flood in Italy.

But Biden’s physical presence — his late arrivals, his stiff gait, the smug smile he wore during group photos — was keenly observed by his counterparts, other diplomats and the public. And some of the Japanese public who watched the summit and commented in real time were not particularly kind to Biden, who at times appeared less energetic than his younger counterparts.

During a group photo on Saturday, Biden didn’t hear when he was called to take his place on a mark, forcing Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to shout to alert him. A European diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject, said Biden “looked good” but noted he “had to stick to the script a bit”, reading large note cards when it was his turn to speak at meetings.

“Since he has yet to attend another G-7 summit [next year] before running for office, his future was not a big concern for other leaders,” the diplomat said.

Biden’s efforts to make inroads in smaller Indo-Pacific countries have been set back, however, by the fact that he had to cancel a planned stopover in Papua New Guinea en route to Australia after Japan. .

Ian Bremmer, chairman of the Eurasia Group, a global risk assessment firm, said Biden made the right decision to cut his trip in half.

“But pulling out of the Quad Summit shows an unreliability that the Chinese are only too happy with. That said, the G-7 is extremely well aligned,” Bremmer said, attributing the cohesion to the crisis in Russia and shared concerns about China.

Up close, this G-7 was not as unified as the lengthy communiqués, numerous “family photos” and scripted background calls from the White House would lead one to believe. Leaders sometimes disagreed on elements of certain initiatives and, at times, let their frustrations slide beyond the surface.

Behind closed doors, they bickered over various aspects of the group’s clean energy action plan, with Japan obtaining concessions on its desire to maintain several coal-fired power plants. The E. announce additional sanctions and export controls.

Trudeau called out Meloni, at one point publicly chastising his government’s stance on LGBTQ rights. And the final joint statements on many issues, including broad condemnation of the economic coercion embodied by anonymous China, made it clear that while the G-7 countries share a set of values ​​and principles, each would continue to determine its approach to Beijing based largely on national interests.

Somewhat taken aback by his own domestic politics, Biden repeatedly apologized directly to Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who attended the G-7 as one of several non-member countries invited, for having to cancel. his planned trip to Sydney this week. And he went on to downplay the danger of a US default, suggesting that the reciprocal statements of McCarthy and his own increasingly combative aides were just part of a familiar process that would eventually come to fruition. to an agreement.

The comments were among the few unscripted statements the president made for three days until his closing press conference on Sunday evening, when Biden gave several lengthy, sometimes hard-to-follow answers to questions about the negotiations. debt, China and Ukraine.

Stuart Lau contributed to this report.

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