Obama: China benefits from missed trip, U.S. credibility suffers

Reuters

* Obama: "I'm sure Chinese don't mind I'm not there"

* U.S. hopes to seal Trans-Pacific trade pact by year-end

* Obama sees no lasting damage if budget solution reached

By Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON, Oct 8 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama said onTuesday that China had probably taken advantage of his absencefrom a summit in Asia this week and he warned that thegovernment shutdown and fiscal debate were hurting U.S.credibility abroad.

Obama last week canceled a trip to Indonesia and Brunei,opting to stay home and manage the U.S. government shutdowninstead of joining other world leaders at international summitsbeing held there.

A week after the shutdown started, Republicans and Democratsare still at an impasse over how to reopen the government andraise the U.S. debt ceiling before an Oct. 17 deadline.

At a news conference on Tuesday, Obama said he should havebeen able to make the trip to help advance a trade agreement andpresent a counterweight to China.

"I'm sure the Chinese don't mind that I'm not there rightnow," he said. "There are areas where we have differences andthey can present their point of view and not get as much pushback as if I were there."

Obama's cancellation of the trip, which was also to includestops in Malaysia and the Philippines, has raised doubts abouthis administration's vaunted pivot to Asia, which was aimed atreinvigoration U.S. military and economic influence in theregion while balancing a rising Beijing.

Secretary of State John Kerry attended in Obama's place.

Chinese President Xi Jin ping was in Indonesia announcing araft of trade deals worth $30 billion when U.S. officialsannounced Obama would be a no-show.

Obama had hoped to advance talks for a trade pact known asthe Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TOP, during the Asia trip.Talks over the pact involve 12 nations and aim to establish afree-trade bloc that would stretch from Vietnam to Chile toJapan.

The United States expressed hope on Tuesday it could sealthe pact by the end of the year despite resistance from somecountries and Obama's absence from the regional summit.

"It didn't help that I wasn't there to make sure that wewent ahead and closed a trade deal that would open up marketsand create jobs for the United States, and make sure thatcountries were trading fairly with us in the most dynamic,fastest-growing market in the world," Obama said at the WhiteHouse. "I should have been there."

'NOT SHOWING UP TO MY OWN PARTY'

Obama attends summits around the world every year, and U.S.officials prepare for them for weeks. The president's emphasison attending regional summits in Asia was designed to put musclebehind his promise the United States would remain a Pacificpower.

"The irony is our teams probably do more to organize a lotof these multilateral forums and set the agenda than anybody. Imean, we end up being engaged much more than China, for example,in setting the agenda and moving this stuff forward," Obamasaid.

"It's almost like me ... not showing up to my own party. Ithink it creates a sense of concern on the part of otherleaders."

Since 2011, China has consolidated its position as thelargest trade partner with most Asian countries.

It is also the top holder of U.S. debt, adding furtherpressure to the United States to avoid a default.

Obama sought to assure international partners that theUnited States would pay its bills and service its debt, but hecautioned that the ability to raise the U.S. borrowing limit layin the hands of the Republican-controlled House ofRepresentatives and its leader, John Boehner.

Obama lamented the fact that repeated budget crises in theUnited States were hurting its reputation abroad.

"Whenever we do these things, it hurts our credibilityaround the world. It makes it look like we don't have our acttogether. And that's not something we should welcome," he said.

"If we deal with this the way we should, then folks aroundthe world will attribute this to the usual messy process ofAmerican democracy, but it doesn't do lasting damage."

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