Things John Kerry has to endure because Barack Obama isn’t at the APEC summit

Praying for sartorial relief?
Praying for sartorial relief?
Image: AP Photo/Pool
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US president Barack Obama’s cancellation of this week’s planned trip to Asia could affect everything from long-term US foreign policy to China’s relationship with its neighbors. It’s also put Secretary of State John Kerry, who went to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in his place, through the diplomatic wringer:

Hectoring from Singapore (and probably everyone else) over the US government shutdown: Singapore’s prime minister Lee Hsien Loong was one of the few leaders at the summit to speak publicly about the shutdown, saying, “Obviously we prefer a US government that is working to one that is not.” Behind closed doors, more leaders are presumably asking Kerry in blunter terms how the shutdown and looming debt ceiling fight could have possibly happened, and how long it will last.

A “Happy Birthday” singalong to Vladimir Putin: Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, known to be an “avid composer and singer,” grabbed his guitar and launched into a serenade of the Russian president in honor of Putin’s 61st birthday during a break in the official program on Oct. 7. Other leaders in the room clapped along and sang, though it’s hard to tell whether Kerry participated, lurked in the background or skipped it entirely:

Those colorful Balinese shirts: Wearing matching clothing from the host country for a group photo is an APEC tradition that dates back twenty years. Obama nixed the tradition in 2011 even though the summit was held in his native Hawaii, known for its standout shirts. In Bali the resurgence was certainly brightly-hued: Kerry’s endek shirt was deep purple with magenta and teal highlights, and they stuck him in the back of the group photo. (To be fair, then-president George W. Bush looked nearly as ill-at-ease in 2008, when the summit members were clad in Peruvian ponchos.)

Image for article titled Things John Kerry has to endure because Barack Obama isn’t at the APEC summit
Image: Reuters/pool photographer

The APEC summit, which is sometimes jokingly referred to as “A perfect excuse for a chat,” as The Economist noted, ends tonight. But that’s not the last stop in Asia for Kerry—he heads next to Brunei for the ASEAN summit there, where several of the same leaders will be in attendance, and the questions about the US shutdown are sure to keep coming.