US slams China and Russia for skipping G20 as Biden dines with Modi

US slams China and Russia for skipping the G20 as Biden meets with Modi in closed-door setting where press is banned

  • Biden touched down in India for the start of a weekend of summit talks 
  • He met Indian PM Narendra Modi behind closed doors 
  • NSC official said there was ‘substantial disappointment’ for India 

The White House on Friday sought to exploit Russia and China’s decision to snub the G20 meeting in India, saying the host nation was disappointed at the no-shows.

National Security official Kurt Campbell called attention to the diss in a briefing with reporters traveling with President Biden in India – hailing India as an emerging power and claiming they won’t yield to Beijing‘s demands. 

‘We leave it to China in part to discuss and explain why they’re not here. It’s really their business,’ said Campbell.

‘For our Indian partners, there is substantial disappointment that they’re not here and gratitude that we are,’ he added, driving home the point.

At last year’s meeting, the U.S. and allies used the forum to develop a joint statement to criticize Russia’s brutal war on Ukraine. This year, the U.S. hopes to rally regional powers amid fears of Chinese economic and territorial expansion.

President Biden met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the start of his trip to India. The Indian government released a handout photo after U.S. press. The White House said India was disappointed that the Russian and Chinese leaders didn't attend, and gratified that Biden did

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is facing international sanctions, and Chinese President Xi Jinping both opted to skip it and send other officials in their stead.

India, like other nations, faces pressure from both countries. China is a growing military presence and economic behemoth. India continued to buy Russian oil even after Russian armor rolled across the border into Ukraine, following its 2014 annexation of Crimea.

India and China have engaged in border skirmishes in recent years, and both countries are boosting military investments and expanding their footprint in space.

‘I do want to just underscore that India does want a steady, stable relationship with China. But they have terms. And they are not prepared to sacrifice their security interests for commercial pursuits,’ he said.

Campbell, the NSC Coordinator for the Indo-Pacific, also gushed about India’s growing sway – even while cautioning against ‘lecturing’ amid concerns about human rights and democracy issues. 

‘I believe that the most important bilateral relationship in the 21st century for the United States will be with India,’ said Campbell.

‘India’s role – largest country in the world, youngest, most dynamic, most interested in education, innovation, all the things that animate its culture presents it as this country that links east the West, geographically north and south. So yes, that what we’re seeing is a dawning in the awareness of the importance of this role and rather than shrink from it I think they accept it,’ he said.

He made those comments in a surprise briefing for reporters, after they were kept out of Biden’s meeting with Modi. That came as the White House underlined that it came despite their own push for media access.  

Biden’s meeting came shortly after he touched down in India Friday where he will seek to manage China and strategize over Russia’s war on Ukraine with leaders of the world’s top economic powers.

The president landed Friday evening at Indira Gandhi International Airport for the start of a busy diplomatic weekend in the rainy capital. He walked down the stairs of Air Force One, where was greeted by U.S. ambassador to India Eric Garcetti and Indian dignitaries.

He gave a long greeting to Garcetti’s daughter, Maya, leaning down to speak to her. Biden waived to greeters as he stepped out of Air Force One after the long-haul flight, which included a refueling stop in Germany.

Then, he was treated to a brief arrival ceremony featuring Indian pop music, dancers, and a red carpet.

He was able to hear two songs, ‘Chak De India’, which is associated with Bollywood star Shahrukh Khan, and Ed Sheeran‘s ‘Shape of You.’

Top rivals were missing out on the pageantry.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin won’t be here, but Biden will hold private talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as part of a delicate diplomatic effort to contend with China’s growing regional influence.

President Joe Biden smiled at the start of his trip to India. He met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi Friday night

The only initial readout of what transpires will be a government statement. Reporters won’t be present. 

The president dispatched Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to New Delhi, and on Friday morning she pitched an effort to leverage more than $2 billion in additional U.S. contributions to the World Bank to leverage an estimated $25 billion in lending, amid China’s push to sway other nations with its ‘Belt and Road’ initiative.

The White House said there were no plans for Biden to speak or talk with Xi, although China’s premier is here. The Russians are being represented by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, at a time when Russia continues to hammer Ukrainian cities and towns with missiles. 

In just one sign of what Biden is contending with amid a deteriorated U.S.-China relationship, the Washington Post reported that the military in Beijing is seeking to exploit U.S. military talent and capabilities by targeting current and former U.S. service members in an effort to glean their knowledge. 

 The offers come from private companies that hold military contracts from Beijing, and dress up the information harvesting offers with the language of standard consulting contracts, the U.S. military is warning.

Biden’s trip comes hours after a new CNN / SRSS poll showed the political pressures Biden is facing at home. The survey had him trailing rival Donald Trump 47 to 46. He also trailed or tied other GOP contenders, running behind former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley 49 to 43 per cent. The survey showd 73 per cent of Americans are ‘seriously concerned’ about his mental competence.

Biden’s first substantive meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be conducted completely out of view of the U.S. media, in a move the White House said was directed by the host country.

Instead, the bilateral meeting between the leaders of the U.S. and the head of the emerging power will be held for ‘officials only,’ according to the White House, noting that it was being held in Modi’s ‘home’ capital.

It was an early sign of brewing conflicts over press access questions at a time when Modi is accused of democratic ‘backsliding’ in the world’s most populous democracy.

It comes after Modi faced a tough question from a U.S. reporter about human rights during a White House press conference this summer. Biden has no scheduled press conference in India, instead opting to hold it in Vietnam following his departure.

Pressed on access issues en route to New Delhi, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters that Biden has other meetings with other heads of state that are closed to the press, and would provide an official readout.

President Joe Biden arrives at Indira Gandhi International Airport to attend the G20 summit

President Joe Biden greets Maya Garcetti, the daughter of Eric Garcetti, the ambassador of the United States to India

Biden appeared to enjoy a dance performance upon arrival after a long flight

The White House said it would provide a 'comprehensive' readout of President Joe Biden's bilateral meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The event is for 'officials only'

‘This meeting will be taking place at Prime Minister’s residence. So it’s unusual in that respect, this is not your typical bilateral visit to India, with meetings taking place in the prime minister’s office and an entire program. 

‘This is the host of the G 20. hosting a significant number of leaders doing so in his home. And he set up the protocols he set up up,’ Sullivan added.

‘Now, obviously, we in the U.S. government work hard to ensure and obtain access for U.S. journalists [in] everything the president does. I’ll let Karine [Jean-Pierre] detail all the steps we’re taking. But many of us at very senior levels have been significantly involved in this, but that doesn’t always yield a particular journalist standing in a particular pool spray,’ Sullivan said.

He pledged to be ‘transparent and comprehensive in our readout,’ something he called ‘what’s in our control,’ referring to a printed statement about the contents of their meeting.

Sullivan said ‘of course’ the U.S. asked to allow press to witness at least part of the event, in what is known as a ‘pool spray.’ 

Modi submitted to questions during a June press event with Biden, in a rare move for Modi. At that event, a U.S. reporter pressed him on human rights in India. Modi responded by saying ‘democracy runs in our veins’ and said there is ‘absolutely no space for discrimination.’ 

The struggle over access, with the White House saying it is pushing for more, comes at a summit where visiting leaders and guests are being bombarded with dozens of facsimiles of the powerful leader’s face. 

Modi’s smiling visage is nearly everywhere where Biden and other delegates might travel or gather within New Delhi on their visits for the G20 summit – along with a smattering of anodyne slogans like ‘pro planet people for pro planet progress’ and ‘promoting a universal sense of oneness.’

Modi, who has been accused of pushing through anti-democratic moves on the world’s most populous democracy, can be seen at train stations, at bus stops, near street vendors and archeological sites, at Indira Gandhi airport, and all around the areas where delegates from the world’s most powerful nations are gathering.

Billboards with the bearded leader welcome delegates to the G20, where India is seeking to establish itself as a leader of the ‘Global South’ and a key player amid great power struggles between China, Russia, and the U.S. 

U.S. reporters won't get a chance to question Biden or Modi when the two men meet at Modi's residence. But Modi is delivering plenty of messages through a collection of billboards around New Delhi, which is shutting down commerce for the G20 summit

Clean image: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's image is plastered all over New Delhi for the G20 gathering that President Joe Biden is about to attend

There are eight Modi signs within sight of a convention center and a hotel where State Department officials have set up an area for U.S. media.

‘Solving the greatest challenges faced by humanity together,’ says one slogan.

‘One world one sun,’ says another,’ while a ‘democratizing technology’ slogan hints at the push to relocate supply chains in India as a counter against China.

Sometimes digital billboards toggle between multiple slogans, allowing people to see Modi at night – although merchants are already complaining about a virtual lockdown of New Delhi beginning Friday, when Biden is set to arrive. 

Others speak of ‘democratizing technology’ and ‘deepening trusteeship toward our beloved planet,’ although India has taken heat for continuing to import Russian oil amid the brutal war in Ukraine. 

There is a larger than life-size cutout of Modi near a central train station. Even some of the humble tuk-tuks that ply the streets using motorcycle engines have ads in Hindi for discount medical care – with Modi’s picture and the G20 logo slapped on the back.

Modi is using the summit to position himself as the leader of a 'Global South'

All for One! G20 signage also touts a 'universal sense of oneness'

When Modi isn't on a billboard or digital sign, he might be seen on the back of a tuk-tuk

The signs have proliferated along with an increased police presense

Modi is using the summit to tout an equity agenda, while placing India at the center of a technology boom and supply chain politics amid concern about China

India is undergoing rapid growth and economic transformation

‘In terms of domestic politics, clearly part of Modi’s appeal is to have the Indian people think of him as the one who restored the country or brought it to recognized great power status,’ John Ciociari, Director of the Ford School’s Weiser Diplomacy Center and International Policy Center at the University of Michigan told

‘I understand that they’re doing a lot of marketing around the G20 to present this as an Indian accomplishment, where in fact, it’s simply a rotating chairmanship,’ he said.

All of that Modi comes amid signs of domestic concern inside India to U.S. officials, including a judicial crackdown, press restrictions, and bouts of religious violence, even as the country remains a major constitutional democracy that is key to U.S. positioning in the region.

‘It’s definitely awkward,’ said Ciociari. ‘I think India’s recent past more generally is awkward for the United States. … And although I think that there are certainly values that bind bind the US and India, the Democratic backsliding issues in India do present a challenge for Biden and for other US officials.’

He said there was a quiet recognition that the U.S. relationship is ‘too important to jeopardize by lecturing India much on democracy issues.’

It all comes at a summit where businesses in central areas have been repainting, and gardeners and street sweepers have been out in force to have the city (wider Delhi tops 30 million) put its best foot forward.

Modi isn’t the only one trying to make the most of the summit politically.

Biden’s presidential campaign announced Thursday it it was releasing a new video featuring images of Biden’s risky visit to Ukraine – and explicitly tying it to the G20 gathering. It is an effort to contrast his multilateralism and global diplomacy with rival Donald Trump’s policies. (Trump and Modi shared a bond during their own ‘Howdy Modi’ gathering in Texas).

‘Ahead of G20, Biden-Harris 2024 Announces New Ad Highlighting President Biden’s Leadership on the World Stage,’ went the headline of a release announcing the new ad, which touts Biden’s ‘quiet leadership’ confronting Russian President Vladimir Putin.


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