President Barack Obama has shortened his planned trip to Asia next week, canceling stops in Malaysia and the Philippines because of the partial shutdown of the U.S. government stemming from a fiscal stalemate with congressional Republicans.
Obama called Prime Minister Najib Razak of Malaysia to say that “due to the government shutdown, he will not be able to go forward with his planned travel to Malaysia,” the White House said in a statement today. Obama promised that he would visit Malaysia later in his term and said he is sending Secretary of State John Kerry to head the U.S. delegation to a conference on entrepreneurship in Kuala Lumpur. Kerry will be accompanied by Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman.
The president also called President Benigno Aquino of the Philippines to advise that he won’t be able to make a planned stop in that country and committed to a trip there later in his term. Instead, Kerry will travel to Manila, the White House said in a second statement today.
Cancellation of part of the trip “is another consequence of the House Republicans forcing a shutdown of the government,” said Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council at the White House. “This completely avoidable shutdown is setting back our ability to promote U.S. exports and advance U.S. leadership in the largest emerging region in the world.”
Hayden said in an e-mailed statement that there are “no updates” on still-planned travel to international summits in Indonesia and Brunei. Officials continue “to evaluate those trips based on how events develop throughout the course of the week,” she said.
Obama’s attempt to advance his foreign policy goal of shifting the U.S. strategic and economic focus to a region that represents more than half of the global economy is the latest casualty of the standoff between Democrats and Republicans.
The president planned to depart Oct. 5 on an eight-day tour of Asia and was scheduled to make stops in four countries and participate in three international summits, including the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Bali, Indonesia. Among the administration’s main goals for the trip was making progress on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an 11-nation free-trade zone linking an area with about $26 trillion in annual economic output.
Obama’s scheduled events in Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines have been planned for months and orchestrated to the hour.
While the president’s Secret Service detail works regardless of a shutdown, the White House had to determine whether enough staff could be deployed ahead of the president’s arrival in each country to facilitate his movements during a furlough of non-essential employees. About three-quarters of the White House staff are subject to furloughs because of the shutdown, according to the Office of Management and Budget.
Obama staked his second-term foreign policy on enhancing the U.S. economic and military presence in the Pacific. The U.S. exported $326.4 billion in goods and services to the Pacific Rim in 2010, according to U.S. Census Bureau data, up from $254.6 billion in 2009.
That exceeded American exports to the European Union or to Canada. The U.S. also has bolstered its defense assets from Australia to South Korea to help safeguard sea lanes that carry more than $5 trillion of commerce, about $1.2 trillion of it U.S. trade.