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Biden meets Prime Minister Modi in India for the G20 summit

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Biden arrived in India today. He's there to meet other leaders from the world's biggest economies, a group known as the G20. And he started off with a private meeting with India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi. NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid is traveling with the president and joins us from New Delhi. Hey, Asma.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Hi there, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Fill us in on what's happened so far. What was it like there in Delhi as the president arrived?

KHALID: Well, you see all of these G20 signs up over the city with smiling pictures of Modi's face. In fact, Ari, as we were exiting from the airport, there was this giant video billboard that included images of Modi's state visit to Washington this summer. And there was a big picture of Biden and Modi hugging one another. You know, I will also say that this city - it is New Delhi. It's in India, which is the most populous country in the world. But you don't see people. The streets are barren. Modi has declared a three-day public holiday here because of the G20. We went from the airport directly to the prime minister's residence, where President Biden held a meeting with Modi, and that meeting did not have any journalists in it. I will say it was unusual in that the Indian government did not allow reporters any access even just for those few couple of minutes at the very beginning when an American president, you know, usually gives a bit of access when he meets a foreign leader.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. I've been in those situations when I was a White House correspondent and another country tried to deny access. And often the White House pushes back and insists that the press corps be admitted to the room. Did the Biden team support the press corps this time?

KHALID: You know, what we're hearing is that press access broadly in India has been a huge topic of, you know, kind of push and pull. But really, reporters won't be in the room for much of the G20 leaders summit tomorrow either. And I think this underscores a big challenge for the Biden administration as it works to embrace Modi and India broadly as a counterbalance to China. You know, how does it deal with partners who may not fully embrace all of the same values around press freedoms and human rights? I will say that after the meeting between Modi and Biden wrapped up, the president's top adviser for the region, Kurt Campbell, came out and talked with reporters. And he insisted that President Biden is raising these issues behind closed doors in a way that he said works.

KURT CAMPBELL: 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.

SHAPIRO: Well, Asma, this is supposed to be a meeting of the world's largest economies, but the second biggest in the world behind the U.S. is China. And Xi Jinping is not at the summit. So how does that change things?

KHALID: That's right. And, you know, Kurt Campbell, who we just heard from - he told us reporters that this is a big disappointment to India. But, you know, in some ways it also creates an opening for the United States to really take the lead on the agenda here. The G20 itself, I would say, experts tell me, has been somewhat fractured in recent years with Russia's invasion of Ukraine and these growing U.S.-China tensions. And so there have been questions about really, you know, what does a G20-like forum achieve? And what is it able to achieve in terms of international cooperation? I will say, for his part, President Biden and his team - they say that they remain very committed to the G20 as a platform and a place to continue solving the big economic problems of the day.

SHAPIRO: And so what exactly is Biden hoping to get out of this summit, broadly speaking?

KHALID: Well, his main pitch here is an effort to beef up the lending system for developing countries. You know, really over the last decade or so, you've seen China scale up its global development ambitions through this Belt and Road Initiative. And the Biden team says that there's a need for more money. And so they're proposing a whole bunch of more investment dollars into this - some $200 billion collectively with other G20 countries. And, you know, they say that this is explicitly not against China. But they also say that this initiative is about creating an alternative to China's, quote, "coercive and unsustainable lending" system.

SHAPIRO: After India, Biden goes on to Vietnam. What's the focus there?

KHALID: You know, I think from a policy perspective, this Vietnam stop is very interesting in major part because the U.S. and Vietnam only normalized relations in 1995. And there are expectations on this trip that Vietnam will officially upgrade its relationship status with the U.S., which, you know, is in of itself, I should say, a big development. But it's also a development that China will not like. And so, again, the subtext here, like much of President Biden's foreign policy agenda, is about trying to counter China in the region.

KHALID: NPR's Asma Khalid reporting from New Delhi. Thanks.

SHAPIRO: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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.