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Travel once energized Biden, but Asia trip offers little relief from political woes

Noah Bierman and Eli Stokols, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Political News

TOKYO — On his fifth and final day in Asia, President Joe Biden voiced amazement that Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese joined other leaders in Japan just a day after he was sworn in.

“If you fall asleep while you’re here, it’s OK,” Biden joked to Albanese. “Because I don’t know how you’re doing it.”

Biden, who traveled to 57 countries in eight years as vice president, used to talk about the energy and “passion” he gained from such excursions. But his first trip to Asia since he became president has looked like a slog at times.

A joke he made at a state dinner about William Butler Yeats and the clash between the Irish and British fell flat, drawing crickets from his Korean hosts.

While visiting a Samsung factory, he accidentally addressed South Korea’s President Yoon Suk-yeol by the surname of his predecessor, Moon Jae-in.

And his main economic announcement in Tokyo on Monday, a loosely defined initiative to unite mostly Asian countries, was overshadowed by his unscripted comments that appeared to shift U.S. policy on Taiwan and rattle China.

 

Biden, 79, is hardly the only one to experience fatigue here. Much of his staff and the reporters who cover him have fallen victim to the 13-hour jet lag.

But Biden is the one in the spotlight, and there is little sense he has been able to use the trip to South Korea and Japan as a reprieve from his political woes at home or, as his staff had hoped, to showcase his domestic agenda on the world stage.

“The trip had very little domestic impact — I would say negligible,” said Richard N. Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations. “But these were still useful consultations with allies.”

Biden simply showing up in the region, Haass and other experts agreed, served as a reminder to allies and to China that the U.S. is still a player here, despite the administration’s unrelenting attention to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

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