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The G-20 will be Biden’s new front in his battle against China for economic power


These messages often resonate at friendly gatherings between NATO and G7 allies. But it will be a tougher selling job for Biden at the G20, a forum in which “the bad guys” — a senior administration official’s sly reference to the autocracies in attendance — also attend.

And then there’s the event host.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the catalyst for his country’s democratic backsliding. But he leads the world’s most populous country, a growing economic powerhouse that serves as a counterbalance to China and a bridge between the world’s poorest people and the West. Biden hosted the Indian leader for a state visit to the White House earlier this year, even though Modi has overseen serious human rights abuses against India’s Muslim population. Modi’s government is also forcibly destroying New Delhi’s slums ahead of the summit for optical purposes.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who the CIA says ordered the assassination of a Washington Post columnist, will also attend and is set to have a two-way conversation with Biden. The president pledged during the election campaign to make the kingdom a global ‘pariah’, but in power he has worked to broker a deal normalizing relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel, which requires commitment constant at the level of the leaders. Riyadh, which has shown signs of rapprochement with China, is on a multi-billion dollar quest to become the economic engine of the Middle East.

The biggest villains of the Biden years, Russian Vladimir Putin and Chinese Xi Jinping, will not be in the Indian capital. But the G20’s subtext, from economics to financial arrangements to geopolitics, will be about how China — and autocracies in general — are increasingly less of a reliable partner for developing countries.

Concerns over a slowing Chinese economy rattled global markets. Growth has slowed and unemployment levels have soared, especially for the country’s new workers. Youth unemployment figures got so bad that Beijing stopped releasing data in August.

There are few prospects of an imminent turnaround. Country Garden, China’s largest property developer, is scrambling to pay its debts. If it fails, it will mean that China’s troubled property market can no longer be the subject of quick fixes. The state’s tight grip on the economy stifles innovative thinking and the quick moves that could halt a collapse.

China’s woes will be front and center as the US president shows up in New Delhi selling ‘Bidenomics’ to anyone who will listen.

Biden, US officials say, will point to strong job growth and slowing inflation – well below much of the world – as evidence the US has recovered from the Covid pandemic . And he will argue that the institutions the United States helped create after World War II, like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, can turn into more trusted bodies for developing countries.

“We know that these institutions are among the most effective tools we have for mobilizing transparent, high-quality investment in developing countries,” National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters from the podium on Tuesday. of the White House.

He further insisted that Biden would offer an “affirmative” agenda for these countries, not just attacks on China’s development aid. “We believe that low- and middle-income countries should have high-level, non-coercive lending options. It is a fact. It is also a fact that World Bank reform is not about China, largely because China is a shareholder of the World Bank,” Sullivan said.

The question as we approach the G20 is whether some developing countries, especially independent-minded ones like India, which have China on their doorstep, will accept Washington’s “us or them” formula.

But it’s as good a time as any to make the pitch.

“For countries trying to decide how they line up, I think the economic situation is definitely benefiting the United States right now,” said Stephanie Segal, senior fellow at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

After Biden leaves India for Vietnam, he will focus from boardroom matters to the global chessboard. The nation is both worried about China’s aggression and happy that restrictions on Beijing’s economy are generating jobs and investment.

Hanoi has been embroiled in a years-long dispute with Beijing over control of parts of the South China Sea. Last week, a Chinese coast guard vessel fired a water cannon at a Vietnamese fishing boat. In addition, recently released satellite images show China building an airfield on an island that Hanoi considers Vietnamese territory.

Meanwhile, the communist country is reaping the benefits of tariffs and export controls the United States imposes on Chinese industry. This has led US companies to shift operations to Vietnam, which has a vested interest in defining and improving its relationship with the United States.

“It could be a way for Vietnam to try to balance the pressure from China,” said Hung Tran, a former deputy director of the IMF who is now part of the Atlantic Council think tank.

For Biden, signing a strategic partnership is another way to make friends in Asia as China loses them. The president just held a historic trilateral summit with the leaders of South Korea and Japan, bringing them closer to Washington and to each other. The enhanced cooperation between the countries is partly intended to thwart Beijing’s regional goals.

Biden advisers see the visit to Vietnam as an important symbol of the administration’s commitment to the growing bulwark against China, according to three officials not authorized to speak publicly about private deliberations. And those aides believe the entire trip had the added benefit of showcasing Biden’s leadership on the world stage, presenting a stark contrast to the mess of the GOP primaries at home.

“The president’s visit, in some ways, is really just a victory lap against many critics and skeptics in Asia, especially those who think the United States is in relative decline,” Nirav Patel said. , CEO of the Asia Group, based in the United States. Advice.

But the stopover in Vietnam, strategically important as it was, proved a planning nightmare for the administration. That wasn’t finalized when Biden revealed at an Aug. 8 fundraiser in New Mexico that he planned to go there, though talks were ongoing in the West Wing. The possibility then remained for Biden to meet his Vietnamese counterpart on the sidelines of the G20.

Then another complication arose: the anniversary of 9/11.

Biden would not have enough time to leave the G20, make a meaningful visit to Hanoi, and then return to Washington for the annual commemorations held the morning of the hijacked planes hit. The decision was then made, officials said, that Biden would commemorate the solemn moment with members of the armed forces at a military base in Alaska, where Air Force One would stop to refuel upon returning from Asia.

On the 22nd anniversary of the worst terrorist attacks in the country’s history, Biden would become the first president not to mark them at any of the three sites struck. That duty will fall to Vice President Kamala Harris and First Lady Jill Biden – if she has recovered from Covid by then.

The first lady tested positive earlier this week, casting the entire trip in doubt due to fears the president could contract Covid from her.

Phelim Kine contributed to this report.