MANILA, Philippines (4th UPDATE) – President Barack Obama will no longer be visiting the Philippines this month because of the ongoing US government shutdown.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, however, is set to come as his representative.
“This morning, United States President Barack Obama conveyed to President Benigno S. Aquino III that he regrets that he will not be able to push through with his visit to Manila this month,” the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said in a statement Wednesday, October 2.
“President Obama explains that this is because of issues relating to the US Government shutdown.”
“President Aquino understands the decision of President Obama. Philippines-U.S. relations remain strong and forward-looking,” the DFA statement added.
Obama was earlier scheduled to make his first Manila trip from October 11-12 as part of his Southeast Asian tour.
Manila was supposed to be his last stop after attending the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Economic Leaders in Bali, then the US-ASEAN Summit and the East Asia Summit (EAS) in Brunei, and meeting Prime Minister Najib Razak in Malaysia.
During those gatherings, the US is expected to push for final agreement on an Asia-Pacific free-trade pact while underscoring the Obama administration’s much-touted renewed economic and security focus on Asia.
Obama and President Aquino had planned to “discuss ways to further strengthen the enduring Philippines-US alliance including the expansion of our security, economic and people to people ties,” the Palace earlier said.
Obama’s visit would have made him the 8th American president to visit the country.
Hours before, Najib announced Obama postponed his Malaysian trip and that Kerry would step in for him.
Can be rescheduled
“Logistically, it was not possible to go ahead with these trips in the face of a government shutdown,” National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said of the Malaysia and Philippines legs.
“Because they are on the back end of the President’s upcoming trip, our personnel was not yet in place and we were not able to go forward with planning.”
But the trips can be rescheduled, and Obama looks forward to going to both countries later in his second term, she said.
Hayden said there were no updates on Obama’s attendance of the two summits.
“We will continue to evaluate those trips based on how events develop throughout the course of the week. For the sake of our national security and economic prosperity, we urge Congress to reopen the government,” she said in a statement.
Part of US pivot to Asia
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.
The Philippines has accused China of increasingly aggressive behavior in staking its disputed claims to waters and islands in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea).
The Philippines and the United States are close to reaching a deal on allowing more US troops to rotate through the Philippines.
This was a big change from Tuesday, October 1, when Spokesman Jay Carney 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. – with reports from the Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com