Kerry seeks to reassure Asian leaders over US default
Danial Norjidi

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, Brunei (AFP) – US Secretary of State John Kerry tried Thursday to reassure Asian leaders that Washington would end its political stalemate, after China voiced concern about a possible US debt default.

The spectre of a calamitous default emerged as a major issue at an annual Asian summit in Brunei, held in the absence of President Barack Obama after he was forced to stay home due to the US government shutdown, AFP reported.

China is the biggest foreign holder of US Treasury bonds, worth a total of US$1.28 trillion, and its Premier Li Keqiang expressed “concern about Washington’s debt-ceiling problem”.

Li conveyed that message in talks with Obama’s stand-in, Kerry, late Wednesday in Brunei, China’s official Xinhua news agency reported.

A US official travelling with Kerry confirmed Thursday that the debt ceiling was discussed, but added Li had vowed continued Chinese investment in the world’s largest economy. The US economy was one of the world’s strongest and pledged to continue the “close economic working relationship”.

Kerry and Li joined 16 other leaders in Brunei on Thursday for the East Asia Summit – wrapping up a week of top-level meetings that began in Bali at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

As in Bali, Kerry sought to assure leaders in Brunei that Obama’s no-show did not signal wavering US interest in the region. He stressed Washington’s “continued commitment to the region” and offered verbal support to allies wary of China’s territorial ambitions, according to a copy of his address to the summit.

The crippling budget standoff in Washington forced Obama to abandon plans to visit Asia, where he had hoped to tout his “pivot” towards the region at the back-to-back summits.

That plan took yet another knock on Thursday, when Kerry shelved a visit to the Philippines set for the following day, citing a tropical storm bearing down on the long-time US ally.

Apart from reaching a budget deal to end a government shutdown, Congress must agree by October 17 to raise the US$16.7 trillion borrowing limit. Failure to do so could see the United States default on its obligations for the first time in its history and spark what the White House warns will be dire global economic consequences.

Emerging economies, which have already borne the brunt of recent market upheaval over the expected tapering of US monetary stimulus measures are anxious to see a breakthrough.

“(If) the world’s biggest economy turns belly-up, how can you actually protect yourself?” Philippine President Benigno Aquino said.

“But I don’t think that will happen.”

With Obama absent from the summits, China has wielded its growing diplomatic and economic clout in the region.

Li offered an olive branch Wednesday to Southeast Asian nations wary of its claims to most of the South China Sea, including waters near the coasts of its neighbours.

He called for peace in the sea – though China stands firm on its claims – and for expanded trade with the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean). - Borneo Bulletin (11 October 2013)