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Washington - President Barack Obama has canceled two stops on his long-planned trip to Asia because of the partial government shutdown, the White House announced Wednesday.
Obama is scheduled to leave Saturday night for what was originally a four-nation tour. But the White House has called off the final two stops in Malaysia and the Philippines and is re-evaluating the stops in Indonesia and Brunei to participate in regional economic forums.
“We have no updates on the president's travel to major international summits in Indonesia and Brunei,” said White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden. “We will continue to evaluate those trips based on how events develop throughout the course of the week. For the sake of our national security and economic prosperity, we urge Congress to reopen the government.”
The shutdown took effect early Tuesday after Congress missed its deadline to fund the government.
Hayden said that since Malaysia and the Philippines were “on the back end of the president's” trip, personnel was not yet in place and “we were not able to go forward with planning.”
Hayden added: “The cancellation of this trip is another consequence of the House Republicans forcing a shutdown of the government. This completely avoidable shutdown is setting back our ability to promote US exports and advance US leadership in the largest emerging region in the world.”
The White House said Obama spoke by telephone Tuesday with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and Philippine President Benigno Aquino III to inform them of the change in plans and to commit to visiting both countries later in his term.
“I empathize and understand,” Najib said Wednesday in Kuala Lumpur. “If I were in his shoes, I would do the same.”
In Manila, Ricky Carandang, a spokesman for Aquino, also said Obama's decision was understandable. He said the Philippines looks forward to welcoming him “at a more opportune time.”
Mike Green, senior vice president for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, described scrapping the stops in Malaysia and the Philippines as a blow to both countries and a loss for Obama at a time when the administration's much talked about “pivot” to Asia is being questioned in the region. He said pulling out of the summits in Indonesia and Brunei would make matters worse.
“Showing up is very important,” Green said.
Secretary of State John Kerry, who left Washington on Tuesday for Asia and planned to join Obama in Indonesia and Brunei, will represent the US in Malaysia and the Philippines next week, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
The trip is part of Obama's broader focus on boosting US economic ties with Asia and raising America's profile in the region.
Twice in 2010, Obama canceled trips to Asia, once to stay in Washington for votes on his health care law and later because of a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Previous presidents have canceled trips to attend Asian summits. Then-President Bill Clinton canceled in 1995 during an earlier US government shutdown and in 1998 during the Asian financial crisis.