Global Politics

Ripples of the US shutdown reach all the way to Asia... when it comes to foreign policy

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A fisherman at the mouth of Oyster Bay on Palawan Island in the western Philippines, an area overlooking the disputed South China Sea. A cancelled Obama trip to the Philippines may benefit China.

Credit:

REUTERS/Andrew Marshall

When President Obama decided to cancel his visits next week to the Philippines and Malaysia, it was a big enough deal that he made the phone calls himself. He got on the line with Philippine president Benigno Aquino, and separately with Malaysia's prime minister Najib Razak.  

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So, did the government shutdown kill the White House plans for a 'pivot to Asia'... for a third time?

"On the contrary," Jeffrey Bader told me this morning. Bader was Obama's point man for East Asia at the National Security Council and is a senior fellow at the John L. Thornton China Center at the Brookings Institution. 

"Given the mayhem in Washington at the moment, the president felt he had no choice but to postpone the bi-lateral stops [to the Philippines and Malaysia]."

Bader said it would have looked bad for the president to go on state visits during the shutdown. But, significantly, Obama still plans to attend the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) and East Asia summits in Indonesia and Brunei this weekend.

"He could have canceled the whole trip, and he chose not to," Bader said. "President Obama is trying to thread the needle." Bader said those multi-lateral meetings were the focus of the trip all along.

"... the fact that he's proceeding with the multi-lateral stops, where he can meet with lots of heads of state and talk about lots of different issues at this time, shows that he really cares about the region and wants to concentrate on the region."

Yesterday, White House spokesman Jay Carney was asked if the so-called 'Asia pivot' was on ice. And here's how he began his answer.

"No.  I think that the President has made clear through his travels and his policies that he believes it's essential for us to rebalance our approach to foreign affairs, and that that pivot towards Asia has been in the process of being carried out since he took office, and continues."

So does this schedule change have any impact on US goals in Asia? Absolutely, tweeted Mark Landler of the New York Times.