WASHINGTON — President Obama has canceled a trip to Asia that was set to begin this weekend, because of the ongoing government shutdown in Washington, the White House announced late Thursday.
"The President made this decision based on the difficulty in moving forward with foreign travel in the face of a shutdown, and his determination to continue pressing his case that Republicans should immediately allow a vote to reopen the government," White House press secretary Jay Carney said in a statement.
Obama was scheduled to depart for Indonesia for Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation(APEC) summit on Saturday and then head to Brunei for the East Asia Summit. The White House announced earlier this week that Obama was canceling visits to Malaysia and the Philippines that were scheduled to take place after the summits, because of the shutdown.
Secretary of State John Kerry will lead delegations to both summits in place of the president, Carney said.
The White House looked to this long-planned trip as crucial to the Obama administration's "Asia pivot," a proposed increased focus on the region because of its growing economic importance and the rise of China.
Although Obama has build up some good will in the region by merely underscoring the need for U.S. policy to shift to Asia, Asia analysts said canceling the entire trip would raise questions about whether the United States is truly committed to a sustained focus on the region.
"The geopolitical ramifications of the president not making the trip, if indeed he decides he has to cancel, it would leave a big geopolitical mark," said Ernest Bower, a Southeast Asia analyst the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
Earlier on Thursday, Carney emphasized the importance of the summit to Obama's foreign policy objectives.
"These are the kinds of meetings where representation by the United States at the highest level achieves good things for us in terms of our national security and in terms of our role in the global economy," Carney said.
Obama called Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Thursday to break news and express his regrets for missing the APEC summit, the White House said.
President Clinton was in a similar position in 1995 after the first of two government shutdowns under his watch and was forced to skip out on APEC.
The fight over the government shutdown enters its fourth day on Friday with no indication that the impasse will end soon. Obama is also battling with Republicans over raising the nation's $16.7 trillion debt ceiling, which the U.S. government is set to hit on Oct. 17.
Republican lawmakers have demanded for Obama to delay by one-year his signature health care policy in exchange for them agreeing to a short-term budget resolution to end the government shutdown. A delay in the health care law is also part of their demand for raising the debt ceiling.
Obama has said he will not negotiate on either issue.