That left Kerry, as Obama’s stand-in, arguing that the United States is every bit as committed to Asia as the president’s first-term promises led many in the region to believe, and that the government shutdown that led Obama to stay home threatens America’s reputation abroad.
Republicans should “think long and hard about the message that we send to the world when we can’t get our own act together,” Kerry said at a news conference on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting.
But the shutdown is a temporary “moment in politics” that other world leaders understand does not diminish American commitment or trustworthiness, Kerry said.
Obama has canceled previous trips to Asia, although he and top U.S. officials have also made a point of showing up for Asian events and stressing that the United States is a “Pacific power.”
Kerry implicitly addressed the contest with China that underlies questions about Obama’s commitment to smaller, militarily weak Asian nations that have many reasons to side with China in trade and security matters.
“As the world takes stock of who stands for what, and who’s fighting for what and who’s pushing what values, I believe the United States still stands tall,” Kerry said. “When we get this moment of political silliness behind us, we will be back on a track that the world will respect and want to be part of.”
Asian leaders have been mostly diplomatic about the Kerry-for-Obama substitution.
“President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono expressed his full understanding of the situation as we have all been following closely the developments in Washington,” Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said at the APEC meeting on this Indonesian resort island.
But commentators across the region have called Obama’s absence a missed opportunity and a setback for the long-term U.S. goal of a building a network of alliances as a counterweight to a rising China.
“Mr. Obama’s pivot, after all, primarily gave a political reassurance the U.S. commitment remains,” including militarily, Singapore Institute of International Affairs chair Simon Tay wrote Saturday in Singapore’s Today newspaper.
“A subtext has emerged to question if the pivot will be sustained,” in Obama’s second term, Tay wrote, “and even if sustained American engagement may no longer be as welcome.”
The skipped trip sets back Obama’s efforts to secure a signature trans-Pacific free trade deal, Tay and others noted, even as China appears ready to offer a generous trade upgrade to Southeast Asian neighbors.