President Joe Biden has positioned his presidency as a battle between democracy and autocracy, placing the US in opposition to Russia and China. During the G20 meeting in New Delhi, where both Russian President Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping were absent, Biden took the opportunity to stand alongside the leaders of India and Saudi Arabia, despite the US criticizing their records on human rights. Biden also deepened ties with Vietnam, announcing deals meant to invest in friendly countries and embed the US in emerging markets. Additionally, at the G20, Biden, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced their participation in the new India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor, which challenges China’s One Belt, One Road initiative.
While these countries align against China, their interests are not always aligned with each other. Biden and Western leaders had to moderate a joint G20 statement regarding Russia’s war on Ukraine, and China’s President Xi prioritized attending the BRICS summit instead of the G20, signaling a disillusionment with the existing global system of governance that he perceives as dominated by American influence. Biden’s efforts to counter China’s rise as the US’s economic and political rival included cementing diplomatic relations with Vietnam, a communist nation that is considered “not free” by Freedom House.
The concept of “friend-shoring,” moving supply chains to allies to avoid political friction, was also explored during Biden’s trip. As corporations diversify their production hubs outside of China, Biden’s advisors are working to make the American public understand a president who engages in frequent foreign trips. This is a challenge, as many voters have concerns about Biden’s age and his physical and mental competence. However, Biden and his team see these trips as opportunities to dispel notions of his incapability and to cultivate interpersonal connections with foreign leaders.
Despite these efforts, some moments from the trip may paint a negative picture for some Americans. For example, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre ended Biden’s news conference while he was still answering questions from reporters. Prior to that, Biden stumbled in explaining his use of the term “lying dog-faced pony soldier.” These incidents highlight the complexities and challenges Biden faces as he navigates his foreign trips and prepares for his reelection campaign.