US President Joe Biden has decided to cancel his scheduled visit to Australia and Papua New Guinea in order to focus on resolving the debt negotiations between the Republicans and Democrats. The United States faces the risk of defaulting on its debt as early as June 1, 2023, if an agreement to raise the debt ceiling is not reached.
As a result of Biden’s withdrawal from the trip, the planned summit of Quad leaders comprising the United States, India, Australia, and Japan, which was supposed to take place in Sydney next week, has been cancelled. Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese stated on Wednesday that discussions could still proceed as the leaders convene in Japan.
All you need to know about the trip
President Joe Biden’s trip to Australia, which included a meeting with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio, has been cancelled. The gathering, scheduled for May 24, was part of an informal security dialogue known as the Quad, aimed at addressing China’s assertive behaviour in the region.
The cancellation of the visit, which also involved a planned stop in Papua New Guinea, reflects the United States’ efforts to strengthen its security partnerships in the Pacific amid growing competition with China. However, domestic political challenges in the US have hindered what could have been a significant trip to Asia by a US president.
While President Biden will still travel to Japan, starting from Wednesday, the additional legs of his trip have been cancelled due to on-going debt ceiling negotiations in Washington. The Quad leaders will now hold discussions in Japan, where all four leaders will be present over the weekend. The specific timing of the discussions has yet to be confirmed.
The Quad, officially known as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, has gained prominence in recent years, although it was established over 15 years ago. This meeting would have marked the third in-person gathering of the Quad leaders.
The anticipated discussions among the Quad leaders were set to cover various areas of cooperation, as mentioned in a statement issued by the White House in the previous month. These included enhancing collaboration on critical and emerging technologies, addressing climate change, and strengthening maritime domain awareness.
Biden’s frustration with Capitol Hill unfolds
According to Albanese, discussions are currently taking place regarding the possibility of the other Quad leaders still visiting Sydney next week. The Australian leader also suggested that President Biden’s decision to cancel the trip may have been influenced by his frustration with the events unfolding on Capitol Hill.
President Biden expressed his disappointment in the actions of certain members of Congress and the US Senate during a phone conversation with Albanese on Wednesday. Albanese highlighted that such behaviour not only goes against the interests of the American people but also has significant implications for the global economy, given the United States’ role as the world’s largest economy.
While Biden has been engaged in meetings with lawmakers in Washington in an effort to prevent a potential government default, negotiations to raise the country’s debt ceiling have not yet yielded an agreement. US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has warned that a default could trigger a global economic downturn, undermine US global economic leadership, and raise concerns about America’s ability to protect its national security interests.
Consequences of Cancellations
The Quad meeting in Sydney and President Biden’s planned visit to Papua New Guinea’s capital, Port Moresby, were viewed as opportunities to strengthen US partnerships in the Indo-Pacific region. With China’s increasing assertiveness in territorial claims, naval expansion, and militarization of islands in the South China Sea, the Indo-Pacific has gained greater significance for the United States.
The visit would have marked a significant step for the US to re-engage in the strategically important South Pacific, an area that many believe Washington has largely overlooked since the end of the Cold War. China, on the other hand, has been actively strengthening its diplomatic ties in the region, including signing a bilateral security deal with the Solomon Islands last year.
Biden’s visit to Port Moresby, which would have been the first by a sitting US President, coincided with on-going negotiations between the two countries on a defense cooperation agreement. The cancellation of the Quad meeting in Sydney might have a limited impact, given the group’s positive momentum from previous gatherings. However, the cancellation of the Papua New Guinea visit could have broader consequences for Quad’s policy towards the Pacific Islands.
Derek Grossman, a senior defense analyst at the RAND Corporation think tank, suggests that the missed visit to Papua New Guinea could provide evidence to support the notion that Washington is an unreliable long-term partner. This could potentially strengthen China’s narrative and influence in the region, which runs counter to US interests.