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Five things to watch as Biden travels to India for G20, Vietnam to announce partnership

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(NEW DELHI) — President Joe Biden is scheduled to depart for India and Vietnam Thursday on a trip that includes the Group of 20 summit and is designed to further cement the United States’ influence in Asia and counter China’s rise around the world.

The trip comes as Biden’s reelection campaign ramps up and seeks to portray him as a strong leader on the world stage — in contrast with his predecessor Donald Trump, the front-runner for the GOP nomination for president. On Thursday, Biden’s campaign released an advertisement that highlighted his trip to visit to war-torn Ukraine earlier this year and his resolve to not “back down to a dictator,” Russian President Vladimir Putin.

His wife, first lady Jill Biden, tested positive for the coronavirus Monday, and the president continues to test negative. He last tested negative for COVID-19 Thursday afternoon, greenlighting his overseas trip, according to the White House.

Here are five things to watch as Biden jets off to New Delhi, India, and Hanoi, Vietnam:

1. Countering China — with cash

Biden will first land in New Delhi on Friday, ahead of weekend sessions with other leaders of the Group of 20 nations with the world’s largest economies.

A primary U.S. goal for the G20 summit is to achieve agreement in reforming the World Bank and other multilateral development banks, so that they are better able to make investments in low- and middle-income countries — as a way to counter China.

In recent years, many developing nations have borrowed heavily from Beijing for infrastructure and other projects, linked to China’s so-called “Belt and Road” initiative to build up ports, highways, and other major infrastructure.

But the White House had accused China of “coercive and unsustainable lending and infrastructure projects.”

Biden said he hopes to give developing nations another option to obtain funding for infrastructure and climate-change projects — weakening China’s influence and boosting the United States’.

2. Xi skips out

Chinese President Xi Jinping does not plan to attend the G20 summit, the first he’ll miss since taking power a decade ago. Premier Li Qiang will take his place.

Beijing hasn’t provided a reason for Xi’s absence, which could be due to his country’s testy relations with India, domestic politics or another unknown cause. His absence could give Biden a greater opening to push through the U.S. agenda.

Biden, though, told reporter he was “disappointed” Xi wasn’t coming, but had said previously he hoped to meet with the Chinese leader “this fall.” One possible venue is the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders’ summit in San Francisco in November; both the U.S. and China are members.

3. Kim Jong Un heads to Russia?

In New Delhi, Biden will push for continued international backing for Ukraine as it wages its counteroffensive against Russia.

He’ll bring that message to India while grappling with increased reticence from Republicans on Capitol Hill, who are returning from a summer break. Biden has asked lawmakers for $24 billion in additional funding for Kyiv.

Meanwhile, while Russia is a member of the G20, its leader, President Putin, is also skipping the summit.

Instead, he may host North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, in Russia as soon as next week, according to a report from the New York Times.

The White House has warned that Moscow wants to buy arms from Pyongyang for its war in Ukraine, and says the U.S. believes Kim expects to meet with Putin in Russia.

4. Vietnam: From war to partnership

After spending time in New Delhi, Biden plans to head to Hanoi, where he and Vietnamese leaders are expected to announce a major upgrade to U.S. and Vietnamese relations.

The two nations — who were at war nearly half a century ago and who only established diplomatic relations in 1995 — are expected to boost their economic and technological ties.

The White House hasn’t shared many details of the expected agreements, but Biden’s top national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, told reporters Tuesday that Vietnam would play a “leading role” in the United States’ “growing network of partnerships in the Indo-Pacific as we look to the future.”

“As we survey common challenges on everything from the South China Sea to critical and emerging technologies, the United States and Vietnam will chart out a vision for facing the 21st century together with an elevated and energized partnership,” Sullivan said.

Vietnam may elevate the United States to a status it has only given to four other nations, including China, its top trading partner and neighbor to the north, according to The Washington Post.

It would be a move taken at Beijing’s expense and a major accomplishment for the Biden administration as it seeks to bolster the American presence in the Indo-Pacific region to push back against an increasingly assertive China.

5. COVID questions

Since his wife tested positive for COVID-19 Monday, Biden has worn a face mask at times while repeatedly testing negative, according to the White House. He remains symptom-free, the White House added. He last tested negative on Thursday, according to the White House.

He and first lady Jill Biden last spent time together Monday, and the president plans to take precautions — including wearing a face mask when around others indoors — following that exposure, the White House said.

Lingering in the background, though, are questions about what happens if Biden tests positive at any point over the coming days, whether before he departs or while he’s abroad.

Would he participate in meetings virtually? Would the vice president or secretary of state represent the U.S. instead? The White House has refused to discuss contingencies.

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