- POSTED: 02 Oct 2013 14:07
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President Barack Obama has scrapped a visit to Malaysia due to the US government shutdown, Prime Minister Najib Razak said on Wednesday.
KUALA LUMPUR: President Barack Obama has scrapped a visit to Malaysia due to the US government shutdown, Prime Minister Najib Razak said Wednesday, raising questions over the US leader's attendance at two regional summits.
Obama was to deliver an address in Malaysia on October 11 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, 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, Obama is expected to push for final agreement on an Asia-Pacific free-trade pact while underscoring his administration's much-touted renewed economic and security focus on Asia.
A spokeswoman in Najib's office confirmed Malaysian media reports that quoted the premier saying Obama had called to announce the visit was off due to the budget impasse.
"Obama expressed his disappointment that he was unable to visit Malaysia as scheduled," 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 Kerry would step in for Obama for his planned speech at an entrepreneurs summit in Kuala Lumpur on October 11.
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 October 7-8, and an East Asia summit in Brunei on October 9-10.
An APEC spokesman declined comment when asked to confirm Obama's attendance and Brunei government officials could not immediately be reached.
The Philippine government did not confirm whether a stop by Obama in Manila would be affected.
Engaged in a bitter territorial row with China, Manila is hoping Obama's scheduled visit will send a strong signal about US support for its longtime Philippine ally.
"As of yesterday, the trip was still proceeding and pushing through. But given the situation (in the United States) we would certainly understand if they had to cancel," Philippine presidential spokesman Ricky Carandang told AFP.
The Philippines has accused China of increasingly aggressive behaviour in staking its disputed claims to waters and islands in the South China Sea.
The Philippines and the United States are close to reaching a deal on allowing more US troops to rotate through the Philippines.
The White House has not yet announced any changes to Obama's travel plans.
Spokesman Jay Carney on Tuesday indicated Obama remained intent on pressing ahead with the trip.
"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 United States," Carney told reporters.
With China's Asia-Pacific profile rising, 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, he 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.
Discussions on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) have, however, run into difficulty amid protectionist reflexes in some prospective member countries. Negotiators have expressed doubt that a year-end goal for an agreement was still possible.
The United States lurched into a dreaded government shutdown on Tuesday for the first time in 17 years, after Congress failed to resolve a budget dispute.
Many government departments have started closing down, furloughing 800,000 federal workers.
Prospects for a swift resolution were unclear, raising concerns over the impact on the struggling US economic recovery.
The impasse, marked by ugly partisan rhetoric in the bitterly divided US political system, has seen Republicans repeatedly try to tie new government funding to attempts to defund, delay or dismantle Obama's signature health care law.