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Kerry Cancels Visit to Philippines

Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei — President Obama canceled a visit to the Philippines because of the political storm at home; now Secretary of State John Kerry is scotching the trip he was supposed to make in Obama’s stead because of a real storm at sea.

Tropical Storm Santi will make it impossible to make the planned stop in Manila today, Kerry announced Thursday, as he held a hastily scheduled meeting with Philippine Foreign Minister Albert del Rosario on the sidelines of Southeast Asian political and security talks.

Santi is expected to hit the island nation as a typhoon today.

“Because of the judgment of our pilots, and the airlines, that with the approaching typhoon, we are going to postpone the trip that I was going to make to the Philippines,” Kerry said.

He apologized and promised to reschedule quickly, “within a month or so.”

Kerry also spoke Thursday to Philippine President Benigno Aquino III to inform him of the cancellation.

Del Rosario was gracious, but disappointed.

Obama’s visit to the longtime U.S. ally had been much anticipated in Manila, where the Aquino government has taken the region’s most forceful posture in territorial disputes with China. The Obama administration has encouraged the Philippines, while China has sought to exact a political and economic cost on Manila.

“Every nation has a voice that should be heard,” Kerry said Thursday at a regional meeting that included China’s No. 2 official. “Each of us also has an obligation to meet the founding principles of this organization: to foster mutual respect for independence and sovereignty; to promote peaceful resolution of disputes and adherence to international law.”

The United States is pushing sometimes reluctant Southeast Asian states to insist on a “code of conduct” with China that would help regulate maritime and other disputes.

“Freedom of navigation and overflight is a linchpin of security in the Pacific. It is a right we all share,” Kerry said. “The right to safe and unimpeded commerce, freedom of navigation and respect for international law must be maintained. The rights of all nations, large and small, must be respected.”

The cancellation of Obama’s Asian visit, which was to have included the Association of Southeast Asian Nations meeting here, has raised alarm in the Philippines and elsewhere that the United States would lose a banner opportunity to counter assertive Chinese territorial claims.

Kerry is filling in, and his aides have been at pains to say that he is making the same arguments and keeping the same schedule as Obama would have done, and that leaders from across Asia have received Kerry without reservation.

But for the Philippines especially, a personal visit from either Obama or Kerry would have come at a particularly welcome moment.

Chinese land claims and maritime expansion in the South China Sea have resulted in numerous territorial disputes over islands and fishing areas, and they have set up a conflict with the United States over its long practice of maintaining a heavy naval presence in Pacific international waters.