Obama cancels part of Asian Pacific visit while Xi begins first trip as president

Shutdown at home leads to US president's decision while Xi starts Southeast Asia visit

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 October, 2013, 2:43pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 October, 2013, 11:43am

US President Barack Obama has scrapped scheduled visits to Malaysia and the Philippines due to the US federal government shutdown.

While the domestic crisis has apparently hampered Washington's diplomatic efforts in the Asian Pacific region, President Xi Jinping yesterday kicked off his first Southeast Asia trip since taking office in March.

Obama was due to deliver an address in Kuala Lumpur next Friday and planned to stop in Manila, after attending the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec) summit in Bali and the East Asia Summit in Brunei.

But a White House statement said Obama informed Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak that the US delegation would be led by Secretary of State John Kerry.

The White House said the trip to the Philippines was also called off, but Obama would still go to Bali and Brunei.

The scaling down of Obama's trip came as Xi held talks with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono after arriving in Jakarta yesterday afternoon with his soprano wife, Peng Liyuan.

Xi and Yudhoyono vowed to upgrade the bilateral relationship to the level of "comprehensive strategic partnership", according to Xinhua news agency. Xi also said Beijing would set up a consulate in Bali.

Xi's first Southeast Asia trip is widely seen as Beijing's move to showcase its strategic attention on the region, where tensions have been lingering over the territorial disputes in the South China Sea between Beijing and several other countries.

In an interview with Indonesian and Malaysian media, Xi said Beijing would "unswervingly make Asean a priority in our neighbourhood diplomacy".

Su Hao , a professor from the China Foreign Affairs University, said Obama's decision might upset those Asian countries that want a strong US presence to counterbalance China.

"The attention will now be centred on interactions between China and the region with Obama scaling down the trips," he said.

Additional reporting by Kristine Kwok, Agence France-Presse and Associated Press

Video: Federal employees demonstrate to protest government shutdown