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Will Biden's decision to cut short his Asia trip hurt the U.S. abroad?

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Veterans depend on timely government funding for things like medical care and disability checks. In a few minutes, we'll hear from vets about their concerns as the deadline approaches to avoid a default on America's debt.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

In the meantime, the haggling over the debt ceiling has caused President Biden to cut short a planned tour of Pacific nations. He's on a plane to Japan right now for talks with world leaders at the G-7 summit. But he's headed back to Washington on Sunday and canceling visits to other nations, and that's caused some disappointment across the Pacific. NPR's Scott Detrow is in Hiroshima. Hi, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Well, one of the stops that Biden cancelled was a quick visit to Papua New Guinea. Why was he planning to go there?

DETROW: This would have been a three-hour stop on the way from Japan to Australia. And like so many other things on this trip, it was all about China. China has been aggressively courting Pacific island nations like Papua New Guinea, spending a lot of money building up their infrastructure and cutting new trade deals. And that has really alarmed the U.S. and Australia who've been trying to scramble and provide their own aid and show that they are also reliable partners.

SHAPIRO: So what does the abrupt cancellation of this trip do for that effort?

DETROW: I had been speaking to Maholopa Laveil about all of this. He teaches at the University of Papua New Guinea, and he'd been closely following China's outreach to the region. And he says so much was riding on this visit. You know, for instance, Papua New Guinea had declared a national holiday and mobilized a lot of resources to make it happen. And he says now this sends a message that perhaps the U.S. isn't serious about strengthening its ties to Pacific island nations.

MAHOLOPA LAVEIL: It really signals the fact that the U.S. views the Pacific as really insignificant as compared to a nation like China whose president has visited PNG in the past and has met with Pacific island nation leaders in the Pacific.

SHAPIRO: What does the White House say in response to that criticism?

DETROW: They are pretty defensive. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan fielded a lot of questions about this on Air Force One earlier today. He argues that Biden hosted the leaders at the White House just months ago, that he plans to do it again this year. He argued there have been investments in humanitarian relief and climate, things like that. And more broadly, Sullivan was saying Biden has invested a lot of time in relationships and agreements with a long list of leaders from the Indo-Pacific.

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JAKE SULLIVAN: But I think there is a degree of fairly dramatic overcranking and saying that pushing off a visit to Australia and PNG speaks to the fundamentals of American diplomacy at this time.

SHAPIRO: But the G-7 is still on the schedule in Hiroshima where you are. Of course, that is the site of the first-ever atomic bombing. How is that going to factor into the summit's events? Excuse me - into the summit's events? Yeah.

DETROW: You know, Japan's Prime minister, Fumio Kishida, does represent Hiroshima in the country's legislature, but he has also said that he wants to hold the G-7 here to focus attention on the dangers of nuclear threats at this moment of increased nuclear concerns around the world - particularly with Russia. Several Japanese officials have said there's been 77 years without nuclear weapons being used. They want to make sure that continues. And I think there will certainly be outsized attention at what Biden, as the head of the U.S., the country that used those weapons here - what he does and says. But the Biden administration is really - been trying to downplay that angle. Biden and the other G-7 leaders will visit the city's peace memorial to begin the conference. That's that iconic A-bomb Dome, the one building that survived the blast. Jake Sullivan said that Biden will lay a wreath at the peace memorial with other leaders but that Biden will not be speaking. He says he'll pay his respects as a G-7 leader, but this is not a moment for the U.S. to be at the center of attention. I'm very curious to see whether Biden says or does anything impromptu in that moment after he goes there and after he potentially meets with some survivors of the blast.

SHAPIRO: And what else is on his agenda?

DETROW: They will be talking about Ukraine like so many of these global summits have done in recent years. Likely we will hear about some new U.S. sanctions on Russia, also some new agreements among leaders to enforce existing sanctions. There's also going to be some talk about countries supporting reconstruction in Ukraine. And one big wildcard is how and whether we will hear from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. He has been making tours to several countries in the last few days pushing for more aid and support. We're hearing there will be some sort of engagement with him here at the G-7, but the details are still under wraps.

SHAPIRO: That is NPR's Scott Detrow in Hiroshima waiting for the president. Good morning to you, and good evening to us. Thanks, Scott.

DETROW: ALL THINGS CONSIDERED is my favorite morning show. Thanks.

CHANG: (Laughter). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.