Kuala Lumpur, 2 October
President Barack Obama has scrapped a visit to Malaysia due to the US government shutdown, Prime Minister Najib Razak said today, raising questions over the US leader’s attendance at two regional summits.
Mr Obama was to deliver an address in Malaysia on 11 October as part of a four-country swing through Southeast Asia including international summits in Indonesia and Brunei. But he will now be replaced by US Secretary of State John Kerry, Mr Najib’s office said.
It was not immediately clear whether the budget crisis in Washington would cause the US president to also skip the long-planned annual summit meetings.
During those gatherings, Mr Obama is expected to push for final agreement on an Asia-Pacific trade agreement while underscoring his administration’s much-touted renewed economic and security focus on Asia.
A spokeswoman in Mr Najib’s office confirmed Malaysian media reports that quoted the premier announcing Mr Obama’s visit was off.
“Obama expressed his disappointment that he was unable to visit Malaysia as scheduled,” Mr Najib was quoted as saying by the Malaysian Insider news website.
“However, the Secretary of State John Kerry will come… as Obama’s representative.”
The spokeswoman said Mr Kerry would step in for Mr Obama for his planned speech at an entrepreneurs summit in Kuala Lumpur on 11 October. She declined further comment.
The US president was to attend back-to-back summits of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) bloc on the Indonesian island of Bali on 7-8 October, and an East Asia summit in Brunei on 9-10 October.
An APEC spokesman declined to comment when asked to confirm Mr Obama’s attendance and Brunei government officials could not immediately be reached.
The Philippine government did not confirm whether a planned stop by Mr Obama in Manila would be affected.
“As of yesterday, the trip was still proceeding and pushing through. But given the situation (in the USA) we would certainly understand if they had to cancel,” Philippine presidential spokesman Ricky Carandang said.
The White House has not yet announced any changes to Mr Obama’s travel plans. White House spokesman Jay Carney yesterday indicated Mr Obama remained intent on pressing ahead with the summit appearances. “He does believe that it is part of his job as Commander-in-Chief and President to travel to Asia and elsewhere to help create more economic opportunity for the American people, and also to create more national security opportunity for the USA,” Mr Carney told reporters.
With China’s Asia-Pacific profile rising, Mr Obama has stressed he was redirecting US strategic attention to the region after years spent focusing on the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts and the volatile Middle East.
Besides underlining that effort at the summits, the US leader also was expected to press for progress in fraught negotiations on a 12-country Pacific free-trade agreement that he has made a key priority for his administration.