Asean said yesterday that US President Barack Obama’s decision not to attend the upcoming Apec and Asean summits, as well as to cancel bilateral visits to the region, was understandable.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said Washington had informed him of Obama’s decision. The two-day Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit will be held in Bali from Monday.
“President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has expressed his full understanding of the situation as we have all been closely following the developments in Washington,” Marty said.
The White House has issued a statement saying that Obama was cancelling his trip to Southeast Asia next week because of the government shutdown. Obama’s administration has come to a partial halt since Tuesday because of disputes with Congress over the budget.
“The president made this decision based on the difficulty in moving forward with foreign travel in the face of a shutdown, and his determination to continue pressing his case that Republicans should immediately allow a vote to reopen the government,” the statement said.
“He expressed his regret that the ongoing government shutdown in the United States will prevent him from attending the summit.”
Obama was due to attend the Apec meeting, followed by the Asean summit in Brunei on Wednesday and Thursday.
Arthayudh Srisamoot, director of the Thai Foreign Ministry’s Asean Affairs Department, said Obama placed a lot of importance on the region as he has never missed an Asean summit since taking office five years ago.
“It is unfortunate that he cannot join this time, but it is understandable due to the tough situation in the US,” Arthayudh said.
Obama was also scheduled to meet Asean leaders at a separate US-Asean summit in Brunei next Wednesday to reaffirm his country’s policies and cooperation with the region. The US wants to expand its economic ties with Asean by having a non-binding document to facilitate liberalisation of trade and investment in the region.
Asean foreign ministers met with US Secretary of State John Kerry late last month in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly to prepare for Obama’s visit.
At the meeting, Kerry confirmed that the US also wanted to enhance people-to-people relations in the region. By nixing the visit, Obama will also be missing the chance to rub shoulders with leaders including Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, key players in geopolitical crises from Syria to North Korea.
Bilateral visits cancelled
The cancellation also includes bilateral visits to the Philippines and Malaysia, but the statement said Kerry would visit those two countries on Obama’s behalf.
The White House said Obama had called Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and Philippine President Benigno Aquino to tell them “that he will not be able to go forward” with the official visits.
The statement said Obama had reaffirmed the United States’ “close partnership” with Malaysia and its “strong alliance” with the Philippines, vowing to travel to the two countries later in his term.