Tags: shutdown | obama | asia | pivot

Shutdown Could Undercut Obama's 'Asia Pivot'

Thursday, 03 Oct 2013 07:29 PM

By Cathy Burke

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The continuing government shutdown may jeopardize President Barack Obama’s weekend attendance at two important Asia summits – a possible cancellation that "would leave a big geopolitical mark," it was reported Thursday.

The White House already scratched presidential visits to Kuala Lumpur and Manila, which were on the tail end of what was scheduled to be an eight-day Asia trip, because of the shutdown.

The question now is whether he’ll skip the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Bali, Indonesia, and the East Asia Summit in Darussalam, Brunei.

"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," Ernest Bower, a Southeast Asia analyst the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, told USA Today.

The White House saw the trip as crucial to the Obama administration's so-called "Asia pivot," a proposed increased focus on the region because of its growing economic importance and the rise of China, the newspaper said.

But the prospect of Obama leaving Washington while hundreds of thousands of federal workers find themselves shut out of their jobs could also open the White House to unwanted criticism.

The White House on Thursday said only that it was "evaluating the president's trip in light of the shutdown," while maintaining that at present, the trip remained in motion, The Hill reported.

Princeton University professor Julian Zelizer said that for Obama, "it will be tricky to pull off without political fallout."

"Leaving Washington in the middle of a government shutdown gives the Republicans an opportunity to say he isn't really interested in negotiation, that he's abroad when the country is in crisis," Zelizer told The Hill. "It's a difficult trip for him to take right now, and the sense of crisis will only increase in the next few days."

But foreign policy experts say the international implications of a cancelation might be reason enough for Obama to risk it.

Matt Goodman, who was White House coordinator on APEC during Obama's first term, said he believed the president "will do everything he can" to attend the summit.

"It's really, really important for him to go. In Asia, you get points for showing up . . . If you cancel, it's considered very bad form and it's remembered for a very long time," Goodman told The Hill.

Goodman said Asian leaders still talk about Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton skipping APEC summits.

And Obama has spoken about the need to focus diplomatic attention on the region as China and other economies emerge on the global stage.

"He's identified Asia as a key area for U.S. engagements," Suzanne DiMaggio, the vice president of global policy programs at the Asia Society, told The Hill.

"The APEC summit to be held in Bali and the East Asia summit in Brunei are two important venues for the U.S. to really communicate that they are committed to engaging Asia economically, diplomatically, [and] politically," DiMaggio said.



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