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Biden alters his overseas travel plans because of the debt limit standoff

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

President Biden is headed for Japan for the G-7 summit, but without a debt ceiling deal with House Republicans, Biden switched up his itinerary. Biden says the prospect of default would be catastrophic, but he told reporters just minutes ago he's confident the two sides will come together.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: To be clear, this negotiation is about the outlines of what the budget will look like, not about whether or not we're going to in fact pay our debts. The leaders will all agree. We will not default. Every leader has said that.

FADEL: Earlier we spoke with NPR's Scott Detrow in Hiroshima, Japan, awaiting Biden's arrival and looking at what Biden's decision to scuttle part of his overseas trip, a visit to Australia and Papua New Guinea.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Australia was going to be a meeting - what's called the quad. That's the U.S., Japan, Australia and India. It's a group of like-minded democracies in the region that's all about containing China. So Biden and the other leaders were going to be meeting at the Sydney Opera House. Sounds really picturesque, right? So that's not going to happen. But Biden will see these other leaders at the G-7 and will likely talk to them there.

FADEL: And Papua New Guinea, what was that intended - how was that intended to fit into Biden's travels?

DETROW: Yeah, that was supposed to be an effort to extend U.S. friendship and economic support to Pacific Island nations like Papua New Guinea. China has been aggressively courting Pacific Island nations in recent years, delivering a ton of economic assistance, in some cases military assistance and agreements. And that has led the U.S. and its allies, like Australia, to really scramble to also make and keep friends in places like Papua New Guinea. I talked to Patricia Kim about this. She's a China expert at the Brookings Institution. And she says all of this maneuvering is happening because both China and the U.S. see the South Pacific as a key strategic area. They both want to have influence and also have the ability to move around military assets and ships as needed.

PATRICIA KIM: And to do this, you need to have a good relationship with island states in the region, to be able to patrol the waterways, to be able to dock, refuel and restock naval vessels.

DETROW: And in this big picture, Papua New Guinea is a really interesting country because it's been developing increasingly close economic ties with China. And as those have tightened, Papua New Guinea withdrew ties to Taiwan. So suddenly, you had this scramble from Australia and the U.S. to keep pace. And this canceled trip is really a setback to that effort. This had been major news in Papua New Guinea, even though Biden was only going to spend about three hours there. The country had declared the day of the visit a national holiday, and now it's been cancelled.

FADEL: Oh, wow. That's tough. Now, Biden is still going to Japan, though, where you are. What's the focus going to be at the G-7?

DETROW: It's going to be a long list. Japan's ambassador to the U.S., Koji Tomita, has worked at several of these G-7 summits. And he joked at a recent press conference that the final statements that leaders issue always grows and grows and grows and grows.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KOJI TOMITA: We officials always start with the ambition that we will produce something short and punchy. But our ambition is always defeated somehow, you know? We end up producing a, you know, 20-page-plus document.

FADEL: (Laughter) That's true.

DETROW: A little too real as a journalist, huh?

FADEL: Right.

DETROW: (Laughter) But, you know, Japan is the host country here. And its leaders have talked a lot about wanting to make sure that the G-7 focuses on helping less wealthy countries. So Japan will be pushing for firm commitments on food security and infrastructure funding. But front and center, you're going to be hearing a lot of talk about the rules-based international order, which is foreign policy speak for countering aggressive actions by Russia and China. So once again, this will be a meeting where the war in Ukraine will be a top focus. You'll see a push from the U.S. to really end the summit with more steps to further isolate Russia from the rest of the world economy. And Biden will also be working to try and continue getting other nations on board to have countering China as a top issue in their minds.

FADEL: White House correspondent Scott Detrow in Hiroshima, Japan. Scott, I hope you get some time to enjoy the food and the country in between work. Thanks for your reporting.

DETROW: I hope so, too. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.
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