‘You Are Too Popular’: India’s Modi Upstages Biden on Canceled Pacific Tour

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi received an enthusiastic welcome in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, on Sunday, including his PNG counterpart touching his feet in a traditional Indian gesture of respect to elders.

Modi is on a Pacific tour that began with the G7 summit in Japan and includes a final stop in Australia. Leftist American President Joe Biden had planned to travel with him – prompting Papua New Guinea, which has never received an American president, to declare a national holiday – but abruptly canceled last week, citing the need to negotiate with Congress on America’s national debt. Biden flew home after the G7 summit, where his most high-profile bilateral meeting was with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who governs a country that is neither in the G7 nor in the Asia-Pacific region.

In addition to disappointing Papua New Guinea, Biden canceled a stop in Australia, where he was expected to attend a meeting of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad. America, India, Japan, and Australia form the Quad, which unofficially maintains as its primary goal countering Chinese communist colonialism around the world. To the extent that Biden addressed China during his short tour, he emphasized to reporters, “We’re not looking to de-couple from China.”

Left-wing Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese canceled the Quad meeting in his country last week, lamenting, “You can’t have a Quad leaders meeting when there are only three out of the four there.”

Conservative Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio managed to move schedules around to allow for the Quad meeting to happen on the sidelines of the G7 meeting in Hiroshima on Saturday. The makeshift meeting happened after the Chinese Communist Party had already effusively mocked Biden for canceling his planned visits and declaring his behavior proved that “Washington only treats its so-called allies and partners as chess pieces and instruments, and when its domestic issues override its political agenda, it easily turns back on its commitment.”

Biden met with Modi in Japan prior to the former’s return home and reportedly ribbed him about his popularity. Modi is scheduled to visit Washington in June for a White House State Dinner, the nation’s highest honor to foreign heads of state.

U.S. President Joe Biden, left, and India Prime Minister Narendra Modi talks during the G20 leaders summit in Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia, Nov. 15, 2022 (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara, Pool, File).

“I should take your autograph. You are causing me a real problem. Next month we have a dinner for you in Washington. Everyone in the whole country wants to come. I have run out of tickets,” Biden joked to Modi in Hiroshima, according to the Times of India. “Do you think I am kidding? Ask my team. I am getting phone calls from people I have never heard of before. Everyone from movie stars to relatives. You are too popular.”

Following Hiroshima, Modi appeared to capitalize on Biden’s absence this weekend by confirming that he would visit Papua New Guinea and maintain his commitment to visit Australia, even without the Quad summit happening there. Kishida canceled his visit to Australia after Biden confirmed he would not be there.

Reports last week indicated that the Australian government and Indian Australian community groups had organized large events for Modi, including a 20,000-person event at Sydney Olympic Park.

In PNG, Modi is also scheduled to meet with New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins, the first time the two will hold in-person talks.

Arriving in Papua New Guinea, Modi received the honor of Prime Minister James Marape greeting the Indian leader on the tarmac personally. A video of his greeting – including Marape attempting to touch Modi’s feet as a sign of respect and the Indian prime minister attempting to shoo him away – has gone viral in India:

Biden’s cancellation reportedly caused mass disappointment in PNG.

“Police were tightening security, billboards were going up, and people were getting ready to sing and dance in the streets. Expectations were high for what would have been the first visit by a sitting U.S. president to any Pacific Island nation,” the Associated Press reported last week after Biden announced he would not visit.

“Everyone was excited. But now that it’s been canceled, it’s really demoralizing,” PNG attorney Steven Ranewa told the AP.

The country did its best to downplay how disheartened it was that Biden canceled his appearance. Local officials scrambled to insist that many of the security and crowd-controlled measures in place were actually for Modi, not Biden, and for other world leaders planning to attend Port Moresby’s Forum for the India-Pacific. Security for such visits is of high importance in Port Moresby, identified for decades as one of the “worst” cities in the world for quality of life and crime.

“The airport closure only applied for the US president Biden’s visit, so only that will not be applicable, but we will continue to maintain [security] operations for the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pacific Leaders,” Peter Tsiamalili, internal security minister, told the U.K. Guardian this weekend.

Modi appeared to lift the mood in the capital, as throngs showed up to greet him during his late-night arrival on Sunday. He expressed gratitude for the “memorable welcome” in the Pacific country on Sunday:

Modi’s brief stop in Papua New Guinea concluded on Monday. He arrived in Sydney for meetings with Albanese and Indian business leaders in the country.

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