President Biden is wrapping up his Asia trip with a stop in Vietnam
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
President Biden spent the weekend in Asia working to deepen cooperation with India and Vietnam. He was at a G20 summit in New Delhi, then made a stop in Hanoi. The subtext involved India's and Vietnam's northern neighbor, China.
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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: We're not looking to hurt China, sincerely. We're all better off if China does well - if China does well by the international rules.
INSKEEP: NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid has been traveling with the president. Hey there, Asma.
ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.
INSKEEP: We'll tell people that you're now in Vietnam. What is the president's main mission there?
KHALID: Well, Biden came here to Hanoi to formally forge deeper ties with Vietnam. Vietnam is now putting the United States in its highest diplomatic category. That's on par with China. And, Steve, this is really quite significant. Vietnam only places a few other countries in this top tier. And we heard President Biden describe this as being a historic moment that is overcoming a, quote, "bitter past."
This new status is not just about an economic relationship, but I will say that trade and investment are key. The U.S. and Vietnam are working together to expand the Vietnamese semiconductor industry. And earlier today, Biden met with tech CEOs and business leaders here in Hanoi. You know, the U.S. is already Vietnam's largest export market, and that has only grown even bigger since the U.S. slapped tariffs on a bunch of Chinese goods a couple of years ago.
INSKEEP: Well, if the United States is deepening relations with this neighbor of China that in some ways can economically rival China - in some ways, I should emphasize - how does that fit in to the president's broader message?
KHALID: Well, the president yesterday in Hanoi repeatedly said he is not trying to hurt China. He's not trying to contain China. But, Steve, I think his actions suggest sort of otherwise on the containment front. I mean, he has been systematically building relationships with other countries in the Indo-Pacific region. He recently invited the leaders of Japan and South Korea to Camp David, where they announced this new era of trilateral cooperation and plans to expand their security ties. And he flew here to Hanoi from New Delhi. He was in India in part because this administration increasingly sees India as a counterbalance to China in the region.
I will say that, you know, both India and Vietnam - these relationships are somewhat complicated because Biden came into office pledging to center human rights, and both India and Vietnam have been criticized on that issue. The White House says Biden has been candid about democracy and human rights, and he often does that with a degree of humility in private meetings.
INSKEEP: How, if at all, did China come up at that G20 summit in New Delhi?
KHALID: Well, I should point out that China's leader, Xi Jinping, did not attend the summit. And there was a sense that that in some ways created an opening for the United States to really take the lead on the agenda. There were two key proposals, and both seem to revolve around countering China. One was this plan to invest billions of dollars more into the World Bank to provide additional lending to low-income countries, and that was seen as an alternative to Chinese lending. The other big plan was this idea of a new, ambitious global infrastructure system that would create a shipping and rail corridor from India to the Middle East and onto Europe. And, of course, China has spent years pouring money into its own infrastructure projects in Asia and Africa through its "One Belt, One Road" initiative.
INSKEEP: Asma, I'll note that it's 9/11, at least on this side of the international date line. How's the administration marking this date?
KHALID: Well, other members of the administration will be at the sites that were attacked, but Biden himself will be in Anchorage, Alaska. We're told that he'll be joined by service members and their families to mark the date.
You know, Steve, I will say I am struck by the fact that for most of my life, the Middle East has been the primary foreign policy focus for multiple administrations. And I think it is noteworthy that this year, 22 years after the attacks, the president is on his way back from Asia, and China is now the primary foreign policy focus.
INSKEEP: NPR's Asma Khalid, safe travels home.
KHALID: Thanks, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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