Biden cancels stops in Australia and Papua New Guinea after G7 Hiroshima summit
WASHINGTON/JAPAN (JT) — U.S. President Joe Biden has scrapped a historic visit to Papua New Guinea as well as a trip to Australia for a summit with “Quad” leaders next week, with Biden returning to Washington on Sunday to deal with ongoing debt limit talks after attending the Group of Seven summit in Hiroshima.
The White House said in a statement late Tuesday that Biden will return to the U.S. for meetings with congressional leaders “to ensure that Congress takes action by the deadline to avert default.”
The decision — which also prompted Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to cancel the planned Quad summit — was seen as a self-inflicted blow to hopes of a more visible U.S. presence in the Indo-Pacific amid its competition with China in the region.
“I’m postponing the Australia portion of the trip and my stop in Papua New Guinea in order to be back for the final negotiations with congressional leaders,” Biden said at the start of an event at the White House.
“The nature of the presidency is addressing many of the critical matters all at once,” he added. “So I’m confident we’re going to continue to make progress toward avoiding the default and fulfilling America’s responsibility as a leader on the world stage.”
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement that “revitalizing and reinvigorating” the United States’ alliances and advancing partnerships such as the Quad, which groups Japan, Australia, India and the U.S., “remains a key priority” for the administration.
“This is vital to our ability to advance our foreign policy goals and better promote global stability and prosperity,” Jean Pierre said. “We look forward to finding other ways to engage with Australia, the Quad, Papua New Guinea and the leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum in the coming year.”
Biden had informed the Papua New Guinea leader and Australia’s Albanese ahead of his decision to postpone his trip, the White House said, with the president offering Albanese an invitation for an official state visit at a time to be decided.
The U.S. leader had been scheduled to sign two security agreements, on defense cooperation and maritime surveillance, with Papua New Guinea in a bid to shore up support among Pacific island countries for countering Beijing.
Daniel Russel, a former senior U.S. diplomat for Asia, said the decision would reverberate among Pacific Island leaders and Australia, but emphasized that this was not a signal that American engagement in the region would be curtailed in the long term.
“There is no question 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,” said Russel, now a vice president for international security and diplomacy at the Asia Society Policy Institute.
“However, the demand … for U.S. engagement and support from the countries of the Indo-Pacific is not going away,” he added. Neither is the determination of the Biden administration to bolster democratic values, prosperity, and security in the region.”
Although it was not immediately clear when the visits would be rescheduled to, Biden will get a chance to see the three other Quad leaders and Pacific Island officials during his visit to Hiroshima for the G7. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has also invited Albanese, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as well as Cook Islands officials, who will be representing the Pacific Island Forum.
Speaking Wednesday, Albanese said that while the Quad leaders’ meeting had been canceled, the four leaders would still sit down in Hiroshima on the sidelines of the G7. Later in the day, Japan’s top government spokesman also said Kishida would not be making the Australia trip.
“We are attempting to get together over that period of time,” he told reporters.
BY JESSE JOHNSON
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