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At the G20, Biden joins forces with India and the Middle East, sidelining China

President Biden shakes hands with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi after announcing a new corridor to link India to the Middle East and Europe.
Ludovic Marin
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POOL/AFP via Getty Images
President Biden shakes hands with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi after announcing a new corridor to link India to the Middle East and Europe.

NEW DELHI - President Biden announced plans for a new rail and shipping corridor that will connect India, the Middle East and Europe — a long-term push to improve the way goods, energy and information moves across borders, that notably does not involve China.

Biden made the announcementwith other world leaders at the G20 — a summit that China's President Xi Jinping chose to skip this year. Afterward, Biden clutched hands with India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to mark the moment.

It was one of several ways that Biden is seeking to counter the inroads China has made around the world through its Belt and Road Initiative and other development financing. At the G20, the United States and Europe also announcednew investments in a rail line that will connect Angola with the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia.

"This is a game-changing regional investment. And both of these are huge, huge steps forward, but they're far from the only ones. We're continuing to make big investments in infrastructure around the world," Biden said.

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi shows a mural of the Konark Sun temple wheel to President Biden at the G20 summit in New Delhi.
Ludovic Marin / POOL/AFP via Getty Images
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POOL/AFP via Getty Images
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi shows a mural of the Konark Sun temple wheel to President Biden at the G20 summit in New Delhi.

Xi skipped the summit. That's created an opening

The summit has been a top priority for Modi, a leader who Biden has sought to bring closer as a counterbalance to China in the Indo-Pacific region.

Images of Modi's state visit to Washington in June graced a giant video billboard near the airport where Air Force One landed, and G20 posters featuring Modi were plastered around the capital. Modi declared a three-day public holiday for the G20, and the streets around the summit were bare, with the public kept far from the events.

Leaders from China, the world's second-largest economy, and Russia — a long-time partner of India — opted not to attend.

"I think for our Indian partners, there is substantial disappointment that they're not here — and gratitude that we are," said Kurt Campbell, Biden's top National Security Council adviser on the Indo-Pacific region.

Journalists have also been tightly restricted from events, drawing attention to India's track record on press freedom, and highlighting a challenge for Biden as he tries to develop a closer relationship with leaders who don't fully embrace human rights.

Campbell said it's something that Biden chooses to raise behind closed doors.

"My experience is that the president is direct, open and does not shy from hard challenges. But what makes it effective is that he begins from a platform of trust and confidence, and I believe that allows his interlocutors to hear sometimes challenging issues more effectively," Campbell told reporters.

President Biden attends at session at the G20 in New Delhi. India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi has used the pre-colonial Hindi name for his country on his nameplate during the summit.
Evelyn Hockstein / POOL/AFP via Getty Images
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POOL/AFP via Getty Images
President Biden attends at session at the G20 in New Delhi. India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi has used the pre-colonial Hindi name for his country on his nameplate during the summit.

Biden also worked to beef up the World Bank

Biden has also used the G20 to work with other members of the World Bank to try to make it a more attractive option to Chinese financing, which his national security adviser Jake Sullivan has described as "coercive" and "unsustainable" because it has left some countries in Asia and Africa with debts they cannot repay.

Biden hasasked Congress for more than $2 billion for the World Bank, an investment the White House says would leverage more than $25 billion in lending.

He has also championed a G7 initiative known as the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment, or PGII, which has similar aims.

The goal is not to force developing countries to choose between China and the West, but rather to give them additional attractive options, the White House says.

"We think [it] has real appeal for countries in regions that are underserved by by infrastructure that that have these enormous gaps that need to be filled," Jon Finer, Biden's deputy national security adviser, told reporters.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.
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