MANILA (Mabuhay) – U.S. President Barack Obama canceled a scheduled visit to Manila next week due to the U.S. government shutdown, the Department of Foreign Affairs said Wednesday.
“This morning, United States President Barack Obama conveyed to President Benigno S. Aquino III that he regrets that he will not be able to push through with his visit to Manila this month. President Obama explains that this is because of issues relating to the US Government shutdown,” the DFA said.
“President Aquino understands the decision of President Obama. Philippines-U.S. relations remain strong and forward-looking,” the department added.
Obama also canceled a trip to Malaysia while his presence at two international summits—an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meet in Bali and the East Asia summit in Brunei—is in doubt.
In separate statements the White House said Secretary of State John Kerry will take Obama’s place in the visits to Malaysia and the Philippines.
Obama had been due to travel to Bali for APEC, Brunei for the East Asia summit, and then tour Malaysia and the Philippines. He was to leave Saturday for the week-long trip.
“Logistically, it was not possible to go ahead with these trips in the face of a government shutdown,” National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said of the Malaysia and Philippines legs.
“Because they are on the back end of the President’s upcoming trip, our personnel was not yet in place and we were not able to go forward with planning.”
But the trips can be rescheduled, and Obama looks forward to going to both countries later in his second term, she said.
Obama’s trip to Manila on October 11 and 12 was supposed to be his first visit to the Philippines. Manila was supposed to be the last stop for the US President after a tour of member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
The planned visit has been seen to send a strong signal of US support for the Philippines despite Washington’s professed neutrality in the South China Sea dispute.
China has grown increasingly assertive in the South China Sea dispute, one of Asia’s biggest security headaches. On Sept 3 the Philippines accused China of preparing to build a new structure on a shoal in the sea in violation of the Declaration of Conduct, a non-binding confidence-building agreement on maritime conduct signed in 2002 by China and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
China has repeatedly warned the United States to stay out of the South China Sea dispute.
Washington has not publicly taken sides, but in July Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated his country’s strategic interest in freedom of navigation through the busy sea and its eagerness to see a Code of Conduct signed. (MNS)