The Philippine governments said Wednesday that they understood President Barack Obama’s decision to cancel upcoming visits to their countries. The White House announced earlier in the day that Obama was calling off stops in Malaysia and the Philippines on his long-planned trip to Asia because of the partial government shutdown.
Obama is scheduled to leave Saturday night for what was originally a four-nation tour. The White House said Obama will still travel to Indonesia and Brunei. The trip is part of Obama’s broader focus on boosting U.S. economic ties with Asia. The White House said Obama called Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and Philippine President Benigno Aquino III on Tuesday to inform them of his change in plans and commit to traveling to both countries later in his term. Najib said Obama told him that Secretary of State John Kerry will represent the president to address an entrepreneurship conference in Kuala Lumpur on October 11. Kerry will also travel to Manila for talks with Philippine officials, according to the U.S. Embassy there. Obama was to have been the first U.S. president to visit Malaysia since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1966. “I empathize and understand,” Najib said of Obama’s decision to cancel. “If I were in his shoes, I would do the same.” In Manila, Ricky Carandang, a spokesman for Aquino, also said that Obama’s decision was understandable, and that the Philippines looks forward to welcoming him “at a more opportune time.” The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that relations between the two countries “remain strong and forward-looking.” The shutdown took effect Tuesday after Congress missed its deadline to fund the government. Obama twice canceled trips to Asia in 2010, once to stay in Washington for votes on his health care law, and once because of an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.