Obama Scales Back Asia Trip, Eliminating Two Stops
(Update: President Barack Obama has canceled two of the four stops on his trip to Asia because of the partial government shutdown, the White House announced Wednesday. He will not visit Malaysia and the Phillippines, but – for now at least – he is still planning to go to Indonesia and Brunei.)
(CNSNews.com) – If President Obama chooses to cancel a scheduled trip to Asia starting later this week it will be the second year in a row that he’s skipped the annual summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), despite his administration’s much-touted “pivot” to Asia.
Last week, with the government shutdown looming, White House press secretary Jay Carney said the trip schedule remains as planned and that there had been no discussions about changing it.
On Monday, he said again that the president plans to make the trip – but added, “We’ll see, obviously, what happens as the week unfolds.”
Obama on Tuesday once again urged lawmakers to “pass a budget, end the government shutdown,” saying he was “more than happy to work with them on all kinds of issues.” Failing an early resolution, leaving Washington to travel abroad at this time looks highly unlikely.
Obama has called off foreign trips before at short notice. He twice canceled scheduled visits to Indonesia and Australia in 2010 – first to make a final push to get Obamacare through Congress, then again three months later, when the White House said he was staying home “to deal with important issues,” including the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
The planned itinerary for the upcoming trip includes the APEC summit in Bali, Indonesia; hosting a meeting of members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership on the APEC sidelines; a U.S.–Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit and East Asia Summit in Brunei; and official visits to Malaysia and the Philippines. (The East Asia Summit brings together ASEAN’s 10 members plus another eight countries, including the U.S., China, Russia and India.)
Carney told reporters Obama looked forward to traveling to Asia, which he called “the fastest-growing region of the world and an enormously important region when it comes to our trading relationships and partnerships.”
Obama in 2009 declared himself “America’s first Pacific president,” and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a 2011 policy speech need to “pivot to new global realities” as a decade of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wound down, predicting that Asia would be “the world’s strategic and economic center of gravity” this century.
Clinton traveled to the region numerous times during Obama’s first term and the president also visited, attending East Asia summits in Indonesia in 2011 and in Cambodia in 2012.
But skipping APEC, a grouping of 21 Pacific Rim nations, for a second consecutive year will raise eyebrows. Before Obama stayed away from last year’s summit, no American president had missed the annual gathering since 1998.
Last year Obama sent Clinton to the APEC summit – hosted by President Vladimir Putin in Vladivostok – which came on the heels of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.
The Philippines foreign ministry said Wednesday it had received no indication that Obama’s much-anticipated first trip to the country will be canceled. But President Benigno Aquino was quoted as telling reporters to expect an announcement on the visit “within the day.”
The Philippines is the only one of the five treaty allies in the region Obama has yet to visit. (The others are Japan, South Korea, Australia and Thailand.) The last presidential visit to the Philippines was in 2003, when President Bush become the first American leader in more than 40 years to address a joint session of the Philippine Congress.
There was no word yet in Malaysia, although the U.S. Embassy continues to prepare for the visit. On Tuesday evening the embassy in a Twitter message reminded U.S. citizens that it would be providing emergency services only next week, “due to President’s trip.”
Malaysia is awaiting a first visit from a sitting U.S. president since 1966. Should Obama not visit Malaysians will be reminded of the last time they nearly got to host an American president for the first time in decades – in 1998, when President Clinton sent Vice-President Al Gore to the APEC summit in Kuala Lumpur.
Secretary of State John Kerry was traveling overnight to Tokyo, to join Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel for security talks with their Japanese counterparts. Kerry is then due to fly to Bali for the APEC meetings.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki confirmed that lower-level travel has been affected by the shutdown but Kerry’s was going ahead.
“There are key roles that the secretary, the deputy secretary, and certainly other high-level officials play around the Department of State, and they will continue to play those roles and travel and represent our interests overseas,” she said.
“But as you know, there are thousands of [State Department] employees, and certainly given the circumstances, we’re going to evaluate travel as needed.”