President Joe Biden announced plans for a new rail and shipping corridor that will connect India, the Middle East and Europe — a long-term push to improve the way goods, energy and information moves across borders, that notably does not involve China.
Biden made the announcement with other world leaders at the G20 — a summit that China's President Xi Jinping chose to skip this year. Afterward, Biden clutched hands with India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to mark the moment.
It was one of several ways that Biden is seeking to counter the inroads China has made around the world through its Belt and Road Initiative and other development financing. At the G20, the United States and Europe also announced new investments in a rail line that will connect Angola with the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia.
"This is a game-changing regional investment. And both of these are huge, huge steps forward, but they're far from the only ones. We're continuing to make big investments in infrastructure around the world," Biden said.
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Xi skipped the summit. That's created an opening
The summit has been a top priority for Modi, a leader who Biden has sought to bring closer as a counterbalance to China in the Indo-Pacific region.
Images of Modi's state visit to Washington in June graced a giant video billboard near the airport where Air Force One landed, and G20 posters featuring Modi were plastered around the capital. Modi declared a three-day public holiday for the G20, and the streets around the summit were bare, with the public kept far from the events.
Leaders from China, the world's second-largest economy, and Russia — a long-time partner of India — opted not to attend.
"I think for our Indian partners, there is substantial disappointment that they're not here — and gratitude that we are," said Kurt Campbell, Biden's top National Security Council adviser on the Indo-Pacific region.
Journalists have also been tightly restricted from events, drawing attention to India's track record on press freedom, and highlighting a challenge for Biden as he tries to develop a closer relationship with leaders who don't fully embrace human rights.
Campbell said it's something that Biden chooses to raise behind closed doors.
"My experience is that the president is direct, open and does not shy from hard challenges. But what makes it effective is that he begins from a platform of trust and confidence, and I believe that allows his interlocutors to hear sometimes challenging issues more effectively," Campbell told reporters.
Biden also worked to beef up the World Bank
Biden has also used the G20 to work with other members of the World Bank to try to make it a more attractive option to Chinese financing, which his national security adviser Jake Sullivan has described as "coercive" and "unsustainable" because it has left some countries in Asia and Africa with debts they cannot repay.
Biden has asked Congress for more than $2 billion for the World Bank, an investment the White House says would leverage more than $25 billion in lending.
He has also championed a G7 initiative known as the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment, or PGII, which has similar aims.
The goal is not to force developing countries to choose between China and the West, but rather to give them additional attractive options, the White House says.
"We think [it] has real appeal for countries in regions that are underserved by by infrastructure that that have these enormous gaps that need to be filled," Jon Finer, Biden's deputy national security adviser, told reporters.
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