WASHINGTON -- President Obama pushed his staff for several days this week to keep a long-planned trip to Southeast Asia on his schedule, even after advisors concluded he could not leave the country with the government in shutdown mode.
But with dozens of staffers furloughed and logistics for the tour turning into a nightmare, Obama gave in to the inevitable.
Though the trip had offered Obama a chance to show his face before an Asian audience he hopes to convince of the United States’ long-term commitment – and perhaps to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin – the White House sought Friday to minimize the opportunities lost.
Secretary of State John F. Kerry will represent the United States at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit on the Indonesian island of Bali and elsewhere.
“The president is committed to the pivot of U.S. policy towards Asia, to the rebalancing of our policy around the world towards this important region of the world,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said. “He looks forward to continuing his work with our allies and partners in the Asia-Pacific region and to returning to the region at a later date.”
Homi Kharas, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and former East Asia chief economist at the World Bank, agreed that the damage wasn’t irreparable. “At the end of the day, these are just meetings,” he said.
But he warned: “I think the question is more one of credibility – that credibility, trust and confidence in the U.S. ability to engage on a sustained basis. That’s a difficult thing to try to recover once that sense of the guarantee that the U.S. will always be there starts to erode.”
The White House announced Thursday that Obama would cancel the trip to Bali, as well as a subsequent stop in Brunei, which is hosting the East Asia Summit on regional political and security issues.
Obama already had decided to cut out two other stops, to Malaysia and the Philippines, as he focused attention on the bruising budget battle with House Republicans that has had much of the federal government at a standstill since Tuesday.
The announcements did not play well in Asia.
“It shows the decline of the United States,’’ said Shen Dingli, a professor of American studies at Shanghai’s Fudan University. “If they can’t pass a budget at home, how can they lead Asia and the world?”
Staff writer Barbara Demick in Beijing contributed to this report.