The president was scheduled to leave Saturday for a four-country tour of Southeast Asia, with stops in Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines. Earlier this week, Obama scrapped plans to visit the latter two because of reduced staffing due to the shutdown. He had hoped to keep his commitments to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Indonesia and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Brunei, where world leaders will gather next week.
Obama administration officials view Asia as a fast-growing region where the United States is competing for influence with China. Chinese President Xi Jinping is visiting Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei, and Russian President Vladimir Putin also will attend APEC. Some media reported that Obama and Putin had hoped to meet during that summit, at a time when the two countries have sparred over Russia’s protection of National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden and are working toward a resolution of Syria’s chemical weapons program.
Analysts said canceling the trip would deal a blow to the Obama administration’s attempt to refocus its foreign policy priories toward Asia. Obama had committed to attending the summits every year.
The White House said Secretary of State John F. Kerry would lead a delegation to the countries in the president’s stead.
“The bottom line is his reputation will take a hit, especially in Southeast Asia,” said Michael Green, a former Asian affairs director under former president George W. Bush who now works at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“Some real opportunities in Southeast Asia will be lost,” Green said. “The Chinese will probably quietly say that the Americans do not have staying power.”
White House aides had held out hope that the budget impasse would be resolved before the weekend and the government reopened. But after Obama’s meeting with congressional leaders at the White House on Wednesday failed to produce a breakthrough, the administration began to signal that it would be unlikely the president would be able to leave town with the situation unresolved.
Among the major agenda items at the APEC summit were negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free trade agreement among 12 nations led by the United States that is aimed at boosting the economic interdependence.
At his daily briefing, Carney described the importance of the summits: “These are the kinds of meetings where representation by the United States at the highest level achieves good things for us in terms of our national security and in terms of our role in the global economy.”