5 things to know as Biden heads to India for G20

President Biden is set to travel to the Group of 20 (G20) summit Thursday, a high-stakes meeting that will take on a new look with Chinese President Xi Jinping skipping the event.

The summit is an opportunity for Biden to show leadership on the international stages and further warm relations with India, the host of the high-profile summit.

Here are five things to know about the meeting.

Xi not attending 

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s decision to skip the event might be the biggest news at the G20.

Xi is sending the country’s premier, Li Qiang, to India on his behalf — and China has not given a reason why, calling the G20 an important forum for international economic cooperation.

Biden, who met Xi at last year’s G20 meeting in Indonesia, said he was disappointed that Xi will not be attending. National security adviser Jake Sullivan said the two leaders will meet “in the months ahead.”

The White House says the U.S. work at the summit won’t change because of Xi’s absence. 

Sadanand Dhume, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, noted that the snub from Xi comes as “the rift between the U.S. and its allies on one side, and China and Russia on the other, is just huge and growing.”

Biden has no plans to meet one-on-one with other divisive leaders such as Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman or Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Sullivan, however, said a last-minute decision could change those plans.

A focus on World Bank reform

One of the administration’s top priorities at this week’s summit will be to win support for reshaping the World Bank — an effort meant to counter China by providing an alternative means of financing separate from Beijing for development projects.

Sullivan told reporters that U.S. officials will look to deliver on an agenda of “fundamentally reshaping and scaling up the multilateral development banks.”  

The White House last month asked Congress to approve $3.3 billion as part of a larger supplemental funding request to expand infrastructure financing through the World Bank. Sullivan said he hoped to see other nations follow Biden’s lead in allocating more funds for World Bank financing.

World Bank CEO Ajay Banga, whom Biden nominated to the post in February, has pushed for the institution to expand programs to fight climate change and address global hunger, and to increase the bank’s lending power.

Sullivan on Tuesday pushed back on the notion that the U.S. should be reluctant to fund a multinational entity like the World Bank when it has its own budget problems domestically, arguing that global problems have a way of inevitably impacting Americans. 

“Our perspective is that for a modest investment — from the point of view of the overall size of the U.S. budget — to put into ensuring greater stability, greater prosperity, greater capacity in the rest of the world, that is going to end up reducing the costs and burdens on working people in Scranton or Minneapolis or any of your all’s hometowns,” Sullivan told reporters. 

COVID precautions after first lady’s positive test

Biden’s health will be closely watched throughout his trip, after first lady Jill Biden tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday. Biden, 80, tested negative for COVID-19 on Tuesday and Wednesday.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden will wear a mask while around others indoors and that the president and staff and aides traveling with him will be tested again before leaving for India.

She added that the president will be on “a regular testing cadence,” and that Biden is “not experiencing any symptoms” of COVID-19.

When asked about contingency plans, national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Tuesday that he didn’t have anything to announce but noted to reporters, “We’ve seen various leaders at various times participate virtually in events.”

Biden is under constant scrutiny from Republicans over his health and his age, with conservatives questioning his physical and mental stamina at times. The summit, in that context, will be seen as another test of Biden on the job.

India relations and human rights 

Biden’s visit to India for the G20 summit comes on the back of a state visit to the U.S. by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier this year.

China’s absences represents an opportunity of sorts for Biden to improve relations with India at a time when there are frictions between it and Beijing.

According to Dhume, U.S.-India relations are warmer than they have ever been, despite significant disagreements over India’s unwillingness to condemn the Russians for their invasion of Ukraine. Both have reasons for carrying off a successful summit this week.

“The U.S. recognizes India as a pivotal part of its wider strategy in the Indo-Pacific. And India recognizes that it can only ward off a rising China with the help of the United States,” Dhume told The Hill. 

India’s G20 presidency has also brought to light growing schisms within Indian society that may be difficult for Biden to avoid.

While the administration has concerns about human rights and press freedom issues, including the treatment of Muslims and LGBTQ minorities in India, U.S. officials have sought to downplay those differences in the interests of cultivating a strategic relationship with New Delhi. 

“There are certainly civil society groups and human rights groups — as well as parts of the Democratic Party — that would like to see the Biden administration be much more vocal. But it’s very clear that the U.S. has decided that India is an important swing power. Washington wants to woo New Delhi, and even if they may have concerns with domestic developments, they’re not going to play those up,” Dhume added.

White House makes push in Indo-Pacific 

Biden’s travel to India and Vietnam comes on the heels of Vice President Harris’s own trip to Indonesia for the ASEAN Summit, a reflection of the emphasis the White House has put on building relationships with nations in the Indo-Pacific region in order to counter China’s influence.

Besides Biden’s hosting of Modi during the official state visit, the White House has revived the Quad alliance of the U.S., India, Japan and Australia to strengthen its presence in the Indo-Pacific.

Sullivan pointed to Biden’s trip to Vietnam this weekend as another key example of the administration’s efforts in that regard.

“This visit is a remarkable step in the strengthening of our diplomatic ties, and it reflects the leading role that Vietnam will play in our growing network of partnerships in the Indo-Pacific as we look to the future,” Sullivan told reporters.

Harris traveled to Jakarta this week, where she met with leaders from Southeast Asia and discussed efforts to boost the region’s economy, as well as develop more climate-friendly policies.

It marked Harris’s fourth trip to the Indo-Pacific since taking office.

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