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Cancellation of Obama trip to Asia boost for China's Xi

| Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

BEIJING — Splashed across the front pages, there is Chinese President Xi Jinping, resplendent as he strolls with his photogenic first lady down the red carpet welcoming him in Malaysia.

All the while, President Obama — wings clipped by the impasse with Congress — finds himself grounded in Washington.

The optics couldn't be worse. The cancellation of the president's trip to Southeast Asia happens at a triumphant moment for Xi, who is basking in the attention that might otherwise be diverted to Obama.

The White House announced on Thursday that Obama would cancel a trip to Bali for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. Earlier in the week, the administration said that stops in the Philippines and Malaysia had been cut because of the government shutdown.

“It shows the decline of the United States,” said Shen Dingli, a professor of American studies at Shanghai's Fudan University.

The cancellation of the trip seems to belie earlier U.S. claims of making a “pivot” toward Asia in foreign policy.

“That's a joke,” said Shen. “If they can't pass a budget at home, how can they lead Asia and the world?”

Secretary of State John Kerry will represent America at the summit in Bali, but he lacks Obama's celebrity power, especially in Indonesia, where the president lived as a child.

That leaves Xi as the unchallenged star attraction at a forum where the United States and China have a pressing rivalry. Many Southeast Asian countries are looking to America as a counterweight to China's territorial ambitions in the South China Sea.

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