Obama no-show at APEC welcome rites: US Embassy cites ‘different schedule’
MANILA, Philippines — Where was the American President?
The absence of United States President Barack Obama was glaring at the official welcome for leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit on Wednesday, leaving journalists at the International Media Center wondering why he did not appear at the event at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC).
Obama was the only APEC leader who did not make it to the official welcome for leaders at the Manila summit and their dialogue with the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC), the first event that brought all member economies’ leaders in one room.
The US President, whose attendance was among the most anticipated at the summit, was notably absent as 20 of his fellow leaders walked together for the plenary session with ABAC a little past 3 p.m. on Wednesday.
US Trade Representative Michael Froman took part in the ABAC dialogue in Obama’s stead, his arrival distinguished by a shorter convoy that followed the slow parade of APEC leaders aboard uniform BMW sedans between 2:18 p.m. and 3:03 p.m.
In a statement sent late Wednesday afternoon, US Embassy spokesperson Kurt Hoyer said Obama had a different schedule that coincided with the welcome rites for the APEC leaders. He said Obama was confirmed to be attending the welcome dinner Wednesday night.
“The President looks forward to meeting with his fellow leaders during the APEC Welcome Dinner tonight (Wednesday night) and APEC retreat sessions that occur all day tomorrow (Thursday),” Hoyer said.
“His schedule did not permit him to attend the APEC leaders’ meeting opening,” he said.
Among the highlights of the packed first summit day for APEC leaders, Manila officially welcomed leaders of APEC member nations on Wednesday, at the PICC lobby.
First to arrive was Australia Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at 2:18 p.m., followed six minutes later by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The leaders then started arriving within two minutes of each other, with Chinese President Xi Jinping the last head of state to arrive at the event.
President Aquino led the leaders’ pack on the walk from the Leaders’ Hall to the ABAC plenary session, chatting vigorously with Chile President Michelle Bachelet to his left, and Xi not too far away on the same row.
No words were exchanged between Xi and Aquino during the walk, but the two briefly exchanged glances.
A tweet by Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, meanwhile, showed Aquino “having a chat” before the leaders’ meeting with the Xi. Encounters between the two leaders have always been uneasy, with the ongoing dispute over territories in the South China Sea.
The Philippines is soon set to present its case before the United Nations arbitral tribunal, pushing forward its bid to invalidate China’s “excessive” nine-dash line claim and halt Chinese incursions into its exclusive economic zone in the disputed waters.
The tribunal had recently ruled that it had jurisdiction over the Philippines’ legal action, moving the proceedings forward despite China’s stern refusal to participate as it reiterated its “indisputable sovereignty” over nearly all of the South China Sea. SFM