As some of the world’s heavyweight leaders stood in the spotlight Monday at a regional economic summit, they still managed to be upstaged by who was missing. Even U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry poked fun at himself while standing in for President Barack Obama, saying when he worked to replace a president nearly a decade ago, “this is not what I had in mind.”
For Obama, the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit was meant to be an opportunity to underline renewed U.S. attention to Asia as a counterbalance to China’s increased economic and military clout. But that message was undermined by the U.S. budget impasse and government shutdown forcing Obama to cancel his trip to Indonesia and three other countries. His absence was perhaps felt most by Indonesians who consider him one of their own after he spent part of his childhood growing up in the capital, Jakarta.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, often at odds with Obama on foreign policy and other issues, sympathized with the U.S. president’s predicament, calling his decision to stay home “justified.”
“You can see the president is busy with the domestic situation of the United States,” he said. “If I were him, I would not have come as well. Any leader of a state would have done the same.”
Kerry, who lost the 2004 presidential race, sought to fill the Obama vacuum by assuring business leaders that nothing will shake America’s commitment to Asia and that the government shutdown in Washington will soon be over and forgotten.
Leaders of the 21 nations and territories that compose APEC, meeting amid tight security on this tropical island in eastern Indonesia, urged faster work on reforms meant to break down trade barriers and improve competitiveness.
The annual APEC gathering gives regional leaders the opportunity to thrash out policies to encourage trade and business cooperation, while also tackling country-to-country issues in meetings on the sidelines. It also is a boon for this year’s host, Bali, which has worked to rebuild its tourism industry after terrorist attacks in 2002 and 2005 that killed more than 200 people.