Blinken cuts short Asia trip due to Covid case in delegation

AFP , Wednesday 15 Dec 2021

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday cut short a trip to Southeast Asia after a member of his delegation contracted the coronavirus, a spokesman for the US state department said.

Malaysia s Ministry of Foreign Affairs shows Malaysia s Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah (R) welcoming US Secretary of State Antony Blinken upon his arrival at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Putrajaya,on December 15, 2021. AFP

The top US diplomat had been due to meet Thai officials in Bangkok on Thursday after visiting Indonesia and Malaysia, but this third and final leg of the three-country tour has been cancelled.

"The secretary would be returning to Washington DC, out of the abundance of caution," the spokesman said Blinken told Thai foreign minister Don Pramudwinai.

The individual tested positive for Covid in Malaysia, after arriving with Blinken from Indonesia.

That person did not participate in any of Blinken's programme of activities in Kuala Lumpur, and no other member of his party had contracted the virus, the US embassy in Malaysia said in a statement.

The state department spokesman told reporters travelling with Blinken that the decision to end the tour was taken to "mitigate the risk of the spread of Covid-19 and to prioritise the health and safety of the US traveling party and those they would otherwise be in contact with".

The US embassy in Jakarta said on Twitter that all members of the party had tested negative in Indonesia.

Blinken's plane will only make a short technical stopover in Thailand, with no official talks on the agenda. He will then return to the United States.

Blinken's tour had been aimed at challenging an ever more assertive China and re-establishing US influence in Asia after the turbulence and unpredictability of the Donald Trump era.

He began the trip in Jakarta where he met with Indonesian President Joko Widodo, before giving a joint news conference on Wednesday with Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah in Kuala Lumpur.

Before arriving in Indonesia, Blinken participated in a G7 foreign ministers' meeting in Britain, which was dominated by tensions with Russia.

He was originally due to make a stop in Hawaii on the way back to the United States.

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