The White House on Tuesday canceled President Joe Biden’s planned trips to Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Australia, which were to have taken place next week on his way home from the Group of Seven (G7) summit in Hiroshima, Japan.
The cancellation, ostensibly necessary so that Biden could return to Washington to participate in debt ceiling negotiations, rattled observers who warned Biden was squandering valuable credibility in the Indo-Pacific region.
The original plan was for Biden to depart on Wednesday, attend the G7 summit in Hiroshima on Friday through Sunday, and then stop in Sydney, Australia, and Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea (PNG), on his way home.
Biden was to attend a summit of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue – commonly known as “the Quad,” a security alliance between the U.S., Japan, India, and Australia – in Sydney, and a meeting with leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum in Port Moresby. The Pacific Islands Forum is a political and economic alliance that includes PNG and other island nations, plus Australia and New Zealand.
PNG had actually declared a public holiday on Monday to honor Biden’s visit, which was seen as a major step toward countering China’s growing influence in the region. Instead, Biden’s cancellation handed Beijing a diplomatic windfall, reinforcing China’s propaganda about a dying United States that can no longer wield effective diplomatic or economic influence.
“The mantra in the region is all about turning up. Turning up is half the battle. China turns up all the time, and so the optics aren’t great,” Asia Society Policy Institute senior fellow Richard Maude told Reuters on Wednesday.
“For Papua New Guinea, this was a very big deal, and they will be disappointed,” said Lowy Institute Pacific Islands analyst Mihai Sora.
Sora said Biden’s bail was a “blow to U.S. credibility in the region as a consistent partner” and feared Pacific Island leaders might stop “giving the U.S. the benefit of the doubt over its ability to re-engage.”
“There is no question but that this is a disappointment to the leaders of the Pacific Islands and the Quad, particularly Australia and PNG. It will be seen in the region as a self-inflicted wound caused by political polarization in Washington that does not reflect well on America’s reliability as a partner,” Daniel Russel of the Asia Society Policy Institute told Voice of America News (VOA) on Wednesday.
Australia will join Japan in a regional defense pact designed to bolster their standing against Beijing’s growing military power and assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region. https://t.co/ZYhlX6LwSA— Breitbart News (@BreitbartNews) November 10, 2020
VOA noted that Chinese dictator Xi Jinping has paid three visits to the Pacific Islands to launch major infrastructure projects and sign security agreements. On the other hand, regional powers are worried about the U.S. debt crisis and the collapse of several major banks under the Biden administration.
Their anxieties will not be soothed by Biden skipping major regional events so he can demand even more unsustainable debt in Washington.
The Biden White House seemed completely oblivious to the “optics” of canceling a major regional event because the American government has been crippled by its irresponsible spending. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby insisted Pacific leaders would “understand that the president has to focus on making sure that we don’t default.”
Those leaders might understand all too well, and they are certain to remember Biden’s cancellation when China advises them not to hitch their wagons to a fading American empire and offers them fresh billions in Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) loans.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin did not address Biden’s cancellation directly in his press conference on Wednesday morning, but he heavily touted China’s economic growth and its plans for the China-Central Asia summit, which begins tomorrow.
As for the Quad summit in Sydney, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said on Wednesday it would be postponed due to Biden’s absence, but the Quad leaders would try to hold an informal meeting on the sidelines of the G7 summit.
Albanese said Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio called off his own planned visit to the Quad meeting in Sydney after Biden canceled, but Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi still plans to attend a “bilateral meeting with myself” in Sydney next week. He said Modi would also “have business meetings and will hold a very public event at Homebush at the Olympic site in Sydney.”