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President Biden is on his way home after a China-focused trip to Asia


President Biden is in Anchorage, Alaska, where he is delivering remarks to service members and their families on this, the 22nd anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. For two decades after that deadly day, U.S. foreign policy largely centered on the Middle East and Afghanistan. Now another country is front and center in American foreign policy. Biden is in Alaska today because he is on his way home from a whirlwind trip to Asia, where, as NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid reports, the focus was China.


ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Biden arrived in New Delhi Friday evening, where he was welcomed with an Indian dance performance on the tarmac. As his motorcade sped through the barren streets of this normally crowded city, there was Biden on a giant billboard, hugging India's prime minister. It was a scene from the summer, when Narendra Modi paid a state visit to Washington. Ever since Biden entered the White House, he has been on a mission to counter China's growing influence and ambitions, and that means courting China's neighbors. And on this trip, his first stop was the prime minister's residence for a private meeting. This White House increasingly sees India as a force to balance China. Kurt Campbell handles the region for Biden's National Security Council.

KURT CAMPBELL: I believe that the most important bilateral relationship in the 21st century for the United States will be with India.

KHALID: The next day, Biden was off to the G20 summit, where leaders from major economies were gathering. And his two big proposals were both aimed at creating alternatives to China. He called for scaling up the World Bank, something Biden's team described as an alternative to coercive Chinese lending. He also rolled out ambitious new global infrastructure plans from India to the Middle East onto Europe as well as a new investment in a big Africa rail project.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: It's a project that's about - far from just laying tracks. It's about creating jobs, increasing trade, strengthening supply chains, boosting connectivity.

KHALID: Over the last decade, China has made massive infrastructure investments of its own through its Belt and Road Initiative. Biden's next stop was Hanoi. Vietnam is a one-party, communist state, and the American president was here to meet with the head of the Communist Party, once deemed an enemy of the United States. Together, the two men announced that Vietnam and the U.S. would upgrade their relationship, putting the U.S. in the highest diplomatic category Vietnam has, one it reserves for only a few other nations like China.


BIDEN: It's a new, elevated status that will be a force for prosperity and security, one of the most consequential regions in the world.

KHALID: The Vietnamese celebrated this new partnership by inviting Biden to a state lunch complete with Hanoian beef noodle soup and made a toast to Biden's health. This new partnership seeks to improve economic cooperation and, in particular, boost semiconductor manufacturing. At one of his last stops on the trip, Biden met with tech CEOs and business leaders in Hanoi and spoke about these investments.


BIDEN: It's about creating a free and open Indo-Pacific for all our people.

KHALID: A free and open Indo-Pacific is kind of code language about China without specifically mentioning China by name. This Vietnam overture is part of a pattern. Biden has strengthened the alliance with the Philippines. He plans to share nuclear submarine technology with Australia, and he recently expanded security cooperation with Japan and South Korea. But in a press conference in Hanoi, Biden insisted he is not trying to isolate China.


BIDEN: I don't want to contain China. I just want to make sure we have a relationship with China that is on the up-and-up, squared away. Everybody knows what it's all about.

KHALID: More than once, he said he's not trying to hurt China. This comes at a time when China's economy is stalling.


BIDEN: I want to see China succeed economically, but I want to see them succeed by the rules.

KHALID: Biden said he hopes to see China's leader Xi Jinping sooner rather than later. The two men have not met nor spoken over the phone in 10 months.

Asma Khalid, NPR News.


NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.