Israel and Ukraine dominate Biden’s life. China gets its moment this week.

President Joe Biden has long wanted the spotlight on Beijing as the Big Bad of global politics. But his meetings with Asian leaders at the White House this week are serving as a reminder of how much China has taken second billing to crises in Europe and the Middle East.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s state visit was center stage Wednesday, a powerful symbol of the decadeslong allies’ team up against China. He met with Biden in the Oval Office to discuss military, economic and space-related matters before addressing reporters. Both leaders will then sit down for a state dinner.

But just behind the curtain lingered all the other world events occupying Biden’s time. The president is trying to convince Congress to pass military aid for Ukraine, dissuade Iran from launching strikes against Israel and press Israel into letting more aid into Gaza.

White House officials are frustrated that they could not fully turn toward China, even as Biden has repeatedly declared that the competition with the globe’s other superpower will define this century.

“There’s always more we could do” on Indo-Pacific policy, said a senior administration official, noting other crises can take presidential attention away from the central foreign policy facing the United States. Still, the official stressed “this week shows we’re doing a lot.” The official, like others, was granted anonymity to discuss sensitive internal thinking.

Administration officials tout Kishida’s visit and a Thursday trilateral session with Filipino President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. as a step toward a course correction and key to making China a regional pariah. The meetings aim to show the U.S. has created a “lattice-like strategic architecture” to counter China, a senior administration official told reporters Tuesday night ahead of the announcement.

The American and Japanese leaders delivered that message on Wednesday. Kishida invoked a need for cooperation with China but repeatedly called for “peace and security” in the Taiwan Strait and throughout the region. He also declared that the allies would not allow changes to the international order by force.

Biden, for his part, touted improved communications with Beijing and insisted that the Japan-U.S. alliance was defensive in nature not aimed at any one nation.

“Our cooperation is purely about defense and readiness. It’s not aimed at any one nation or a threat to the region, and it doesn’t have anything to do with conflict,” Biden said.

But reflecting the competing priorities facing the Biden administration, U.S. reporters attending the news conference asked the president about Israel and rising domestic inflation and did not pose a single inquiry on China.

During the event, Bloomberg News reported that U.S. officials expect an “imminent” Iranian retaliation against Israel with missile strikes.

That Biden could focus even somewhat on China and the Indo-Pacific allies writ large has been a rarer occurrence than the administration expected after Inauguration Day. A renewed pivot to Asia has been repeatedly stymied — by the withdrawal from Afghanistan, the backing of Kyiv and even a previous Israel-Hamas fight.

“There are a lot of demands, there’s no doubt about that,” said Tom Donilon, national security adviser in the Obama administration. “But the challenge in American foreign policy is to pursue the central tenets of your policy at the same time that you have other challenges around the world — and it’s a challenge the president has met.”

The Biden administration similarly defends its China record and focus.

Biden met Chinese paramount leader Xi Jinping in November and subsequently dispatched a parade of senior officials to meet their counterparts in follow-up engagements. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen just this week returned from a series of high-level talks in China. She acknowledged Monday, however, that “there is much more work to do. And it remains unclear what this relationship will endure in the months and years ahead.”

More broadly, American officials say they have revamped and reformed industrial policy to compete with Beijing in technologies of the future. The U.S. has shamed China for propping up Russia’s war machine in defiance of Western-led pressure on Moscow. The U.S. brokered a nuclear-submarine pact with Australia and Britain, known as AUKUS, to better counter China at sea in case of a future conflict.

This and other work is borne out of fear that China will remain an aggressive nation in the years ahead.

U.S. officials have long suspected that China has carefully watched the globe’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to get a sense of what may happen if it moved on Taiwan or beyond. Though many of the world’s democracies immediately rallied to Kyiv’s defense and fueled Ukraine’s stunning initial success in repelling Russia, cracks have formed in American resolve.

U.S. aid to Ukraine has stalled, allowing Russia to extend the conflict. And Xi, like Russian President Vladimir Putin, has a vise-like grip on power and the ability to play the waiting game. Biden spoke with Xi last week for the first time since their San Francisco summit last fall in a further effort to ease tensions between the two superpowers. Meanwhile, senior administration figures spend many hours working with their Israeli counterparts to lower the intensity of the war against Hamas and get more aid into Gaza.

Such crises demand significant effort from the U.S., with officials noting privately that they don’t have as much time to spend on China and Indo-Pacific relationships as they had anticipated upon entering office.

But U.S. officials insist this week’s sessions with Kishida and Marcos underscore that Washington can work with partners across the region to curb Beijing’s aggression — all while assuring the world’s second-most power the countermoves aren’t bricks laid on the path to war.

“I want competition with China, not conflict,” Biden said during this year’s State of the Union address, asserting later that the U.S. has never been better positioned to take on the Asian giant. The president also jabbed his once and future political rival, former President Donald Trump, who also made opposing China a pillar of his foreign policy, saying the Republican offered “tough talk” but little else.