He has just returned from his trip to Vietnam after spending the past few days in Asia. He was at the G20 Summit in India, and is now wrapping up his trip to Vietnam.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
President Biden spent the weekend in Asia working to deepen cooperation with India and Vietnam. He attended a G20 Summit in New Delhi and then stopped in Hanoi. The subtext involved India’s and Vietnam’s northern neighbor, China.
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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: We’re not looking to hurt China, sincerely. We’re all better off if China does well – if China does well by the international rules.
INSKEEP: NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid has been traveling with the president. Hey there, Asma.
ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.
INSKEEP: We’ll tell people that you’re now in Vietnam. What is the president’s main mission there?
KHALID: Well, Biden came here to Hanoi to formally forge deeper ties with Vietnam. Vietnam has now placed the United States at its highest diplomatic category. This is on par with China. Steve, I think this is a very significant number. Vietnam is one of the few countries that are ranked in this top tier. We heard President Biden call this a historic moment, which is overturning a “bitter past”. This new status is more than just an economic relationship. Trade and investment will be key. The U.S. is working with Vietnam to expand the Vietnamese industry of semiconductors. Biden also met with business and tech leaders in Hanoi earlier today. You know, the U.S. is already Vietnam’s largest export market, and that has only grown even bigger since the U.S. slapped tariffs on a bunch of Chinese goods a couple of years ago.
INSKEEP: Well, if the United States is deepening relations with this neighbor of China that in some ways can economically rival China – in some ways, I should emphasize – how does that fit in to the president’s broader message?
KHALID: Well, the president yesterday in Hanoi repeatedly said he is not trying to hurt China. He is not trying to contain China. Steve, his actions seem to suggest otherwise. He has built relationships with countries in the Indo-Pacific. He invited the leaders from Japan and South Korea recently to Camp David where they announced a new era in trilateral cooperation, and their plans to expand security ties. He flew to Hanoi directly from New Delhi. The White House says that Biden has been candid about democracy and human rights and he often does that with a degree of humility in private meetings. The White House says Biden has been candid about democracy and human rights, and he often does that with a degree of humility in private meetings.
INSKEEP: How, if at all, did China come up at that G20 summit in New Delhi?
KHALID: Well, I should point out that China’s leader, Xi Jinping, did not attend the summit. There was an impression that this created a window for the United States, in a way, to take the initiative on the agenda. Two key proposals were made, both of which seemed to be aimed at countering China. The first was a plan to inject billions more dollars into the World Bank in order to increase lending to low-income nations. This was seen as a counter to Chinese lending. Another big idea was to create a global infrastructure system with a rail and shipping corridor that would connect India, the Middle East, and Europe. And, of course, China has spent years pouring money into its own infrastructure projects in Asia and Africa through its “One Belt, One Road” initiative.
INSKEEP: Asma, I’ll note that it’s 9/11, at least on this side of the international date line. How will the administration mark this date? It’s been reported that servicemen and their families will be joining him to mark this date. And I think it is noteworthy that this year, 22 years after the attacks, the president is on his way back from Asia, and China is now the primary foreign policy focus.
INSKEEP: NPR’s Asma Khalid, safe travels home.
KHALID: Thanks, Steve.
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