President Biden departed Wednesday for the Group of Seven (G-7) summit in Hiroshima, Japan, with plenty on his plate domestically and internationally.
Biden and other world leaders are set to discuss the ongoing war in Ukraine and major global issues such as climate change. But the trip comes at a precarious time for Biden, with talks intensifying over the need to raise the debt limit before the U.S. defaults.
Here are five things to watch for.
Debt talks loom over trip
Biden left for Japan at a pivotal moment in negotiations between the White House and congressional leaders over the debt ceiling.
The Treasury Department has signaled the U.S. could default as early as June 1 if Congress does not act, putting negotiators in a time crunch to find a deal. Biden is expected to remain in touch with congressional leaders during his overseas travel.
In a sign of the seriousness of talks, the White House scrapped Biden’s planned travel to Australia and Papua New Guinea after the G-7. Administration officials say allies understand the importance of negotiations over the debt ceiling.
“They know that our ability to pay our debts is a key part of U.S. credibility and leadership around the world. And so they understand that the president also has to focus on making sure that we don’t default, and on having these conversations with congressional leaders,” John Kirby, a White House spokesperson on national security issues, told reporters.
Meanwhile, the issue might be a topic of conversation in Japan. Biden has warned that it could be a concern internationally if the U.S. were to default on its debt, adding that world leaders have been wondering recently about the looming risk.
Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said earlier this month that Beijing and Moscow would use a potential default for propaganda purposes through “information operations,” using a default as evidence that the U.S. political system is chaotic.
Focus on climate during G-7
Climate is expected to be a major focus of the summit, which also includes leaders from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom. They will work to align approaches on clean energy and deploying capital to ensure new technologies are built out in the seven countries and globally, national security adviser Jake Sullivan previewed Wednesday.
Ahead of the summit, energy and environment officials from each country, including Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and special envoy for climate John Kerry, made commitments to shift toward clean renewable energy and phase out coal.
The leaders are expected to highlight that goal, which includes accelerating the clean energy transition to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
Kirby said leaders will “rally around the need for bold action to accelerate the clean energy transition, including by making President Biden’s economic agenda a blueprint for G-7 action to address the climate crisis and create good jobs.”
United front against China
With world leaders converging on the Pacific for this week’s meetings, it will be an opportunity for Biden and allies to project a clear message about confronting the economic and military threats posed by China in the region.
“G-7 leaders will demonstrate that we share a common approach to the challenges posed by [the People’s Republic of China], an approach that is grounded in common values,” Kirby said Tuesday.
Biden’s domestic agenda has been partly aimed at reducing reliance on China by boosting semiconductor manufacturing within the United States. And there are broader concerns about potential Chinese aggression in the South China Sea and toward Taiwan, as well as the possibility of Beijing aiding Russia in its war in Ukraine.
“I think there is a broad sense of converging threat perceptions related to China between Europe and the Indo-Pacific,” said Chris Johnstone, a senior adviser and Japan Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), who added that this week’s summit would be a chance for Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to capitalize on the large platform to discuss the threat posed by Beijing.
Before he left Wednesday, Biden pushed back on questions about whether his early return to Washington and scuttled trip to Australia and Papua New Guinea is almost a win for China.
“No, because we’re still meeting. We’re still formidable allies,” the president said.
Sullivan later called it a “remarkable extrapolation” to suggest that Biden not going to two countries meant the U.S. isn’t showing up in the region.
Talks about war in Ukraine with allies
A major focus for the G-7 over the past year has been on shoring up support for Ukraine after Russia launched an unprovoked invasion in February 2022.
“That solidarity with Ukraine is even stronger now than it was last year, and you’ll see concrete action to further isolate Russia and weaken its ability to wage its brutal war,” Kirby told reporters.
Members of the G-7 have coordinated on sanctions against Russia, military and economic support for Ukraine and other measures to try to squeeze Moscow over the invasion. That is likely to be at the top of the agenda in Hiroshima.
Sullivan said Wednesday that the U.S. will announce a package of new sanctions to align with the summit, and it will be centered on enforcement, such as closing loopholes and shutting down Russian evasion networks.
Given the setting of the meeting, experts said there is also an added sense of urgency around supporting Ukraine to show China that it would not be able to take aggressive action in the region without consequences.
“I think to me, the headline is that after, you know, many years of drift, the G-7 has found renewed common purpose in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last February,” said Matthew Goodman, senior vice president for economics at CSIS.
Could Biden apologize for Hiroshima?
The G-7 will be held in Hiroshima, a name engraved in history because the U.S. dropped a bomb on the Japanese city on Aug. 6, 1945. The bombing is estimated to have killed anywhere between 70,000 and 125,000 civilians. Combined with the bombing of Nagasaki three days later, it brought the end of World War II.
Kishida’s family has roots in the city. It is his political base and anchors his constituency in the nation’s house of representatives.
There have been some calls in Japan — and some speculation in the U.S. — that Biden could even apologize for the bombing of Hiroshima. But White House officials have been noncommittal on the topic.
Sullivan said Wednesday that Biden “won’t be making a statement” at the memorial but will participate in a wreath laying with other G-7 leaders.
“This is him as one of the G-7 leaders coming to pay respects and respects both for history but also respects to Prime Minister Kishida, who is from Hiroshima,” Sullivan said.
An apology, even if Biden wished to make one, could be politically tricky. While he was vice president, then-President Obama was accused by Republicans of making “an apology tour” by acknowledging past American misdeeds.