Washington shutdown a threat to America's standing, John Kerry warns

People will question our ability to stay the course, secretary of state tells Apec, while reasserting America's commitment to Asia

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 October, 2013, 3:37pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 October, 2013, 2:51am

US Secretary of State John Kerry warned yesterday that the political stand-off paralysing Washington would weaken the country's standing abroad if it did not end soon, but reasserted America's commitment to Asia.

Kerry is standing in for President Barack Obama at a meeting of Asia-Pacific leaders after he cancelled a tour of Asia to tackle a budget crisis that has partially shut down the US government.

"I do want to make clear none of what is happening in Washington diminishes by one iota our commitment to our partners in Asia, including our efforts to promote trade and investment throughout the region," he said at the annual Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec) forum.

Kerry said that in his meetings with foreign leaders in Nusa Dua in Bali he had encountered an understanding of the problems in Washington. "Everybody in the region understands ... everyone sees this as a moment in politics," he said.

As well as trying to reassure allies that Obama's "rebalancing" of US strategy towards Asia was unaffected, Kerry also had a strong message for Republicans back home. "I believe that those standing in the way [of a resolution] need to think long and hard about the message that we send to the world when we can't get our own act together," he said. "End it now, end it today."

Kerry warned that if the shutdown were prolonged or repeated, people would question the US ability to "stay the course".

Kishore Mahbubani, a former Singaporean diplomat and dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore, noted that Obama's absence handed President Xi Jinping a chance to fill the void at Apec, while Premier Li Keqiang would be in the spotlight at the East Asia summit in Brunei on Wednesday. Xi arrived in Bali yesterday after a Malaysia state visit.

But Mahbubani said America's long-term strategy in Asia would not be significantly affected. "I don't think it will do major damage to the US because nations in Asia are sophisticated and they realise it's power politics," he said on the sidelines of the summit.

Professor Su Hao , of China Foreign Affairs University, said Kerry's remarks were intended to play down fears that American influence in the region was diminishing. "Some nations ... do find Obama's absence a setback," Su said. "It triggers concerns whether the US is capable, and whether it should interfere in so wide a range of issues."

Obama had intended to thrash out issues with leaders of the 11 other Trans-Pacific Partnership member countries. Despite his absence, talks on the Pacific trade pact forged ahead, with hopes of meeting a year-end deadline still intact.

Reuters, Associated Press