Obama scraps visits to Philippines, Malaysia


AFP

WASHINGTON/KUALA LUMPUR–An embarrassed U.S. President Barack Obama Wednesday postponed visits to the Philippines and Malaysia next week and could also miss a pair of major summits, after a government shutdown dented his policy pivot to the rising region. The White House said the shutdown, triggered by a budget row with Republicans, made it impossible to send logistics teams to Manila and Kuala Lumpur ahead of the president’s massive traveling entourage. It also admitted that the imbroglio in Washington had dealt a blow to Obama’s goals abroad. “Logistically, it was not possible to go ahead with these trips in the face of a government shutdown,” National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said. It was not immediately clear whether the budget crisis in Washington would cause the U.S. president to also skip the long-planned annual summit meetings. During those gatherings, Obama is expected to push for final agreement on an Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade pact while underscoring his administration’s much-touted renewed economic and security focus on Asia. Hayden said the White House would evaluate whether Obama travels to the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in the Indonesian island of Bali on Oct. 7-8, and on to an East Asia summit in Brunei on Oct. 9-10 “based on how events develop throughout the course of the week.” “For the sake of our national security and economic prosperity, we urge Congress to reopen the government.”

It is highly uncertain that Obama, due to leave for Asia Saturday, would travel if the government remains closed. He called Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and Philippine President Benigno Aquino to tell them he would be unable to visit and promised to reschedule. Secretary of State John Kerry will take Obama’s place on both stops, the White House said. A spokeswoman in Najib’s office confirmed Malaysian media reports that quoted the premier saying Obama had called to announce the visit was off due to the budget impasse. “Obama expressed his disappointment that he was unable to visit Malaysia as scheduled,” Najib was quoted as saying by the Malaysian Insider news website. An APEC spokesman declined comment when asked to confirm Obama’s attendance and Brunei government officials could not immediately be reached.