Never did the old diplomatic wisecrack seem truer than it did on Friday when President Barack Obama cancelled plans to visit Asia and attend two summits in Bali and Brunei because of the government shutdown in Washington, DC. This was not just catching a cold; it was more like an outbreak of flu and the whole of Asia has taken note of America's condition.
In itself, the cancellation will not harm US interests in the short term - Secretary of State John Kerry will take the president's place at the summits - but in a part of the world where perception is everything, the move could open the door for China to expand its already powerful influence in Asia. It could also make an immediate impact on Obama's declared aim to switch the "pivot" of US foreign policy away from the Middle East and Afghanistan towards the Pacific rim to take advantage of lucrative trading deals and to reposition the US as an important and reliable regional player.
According to Ian Storey, senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, the decision to cancel Obama's trip "projects the image that America is politically dysfunctional and fiscally irresponsible, and not as committed to Asia as the Obama administration would have us believe".
In stark contrast, China has taken the opportunity to project itself as a mature global superpower and the regional giant to whom all other Asian countries must turn. As an indication of China's willingness to grasp the moment ahead of the planned summits, president Xi Jinping travelled to Indonesia last week to address the country's parliament. More importantly, he signed a $15 billion deal that will lend much-needed support to Indonesia's ailing currency, the rupiah.
During the same trip, Xi also called in on Malaysia, China's largest regional trading partner, to meet prime minister Najib Razak and sign a raft of new commercial agreements.
All this sends a powerful signal that while the US appears to be in the economic doldrums and facing crisis, China is not only prospering but also calling the financial shots.
The diplomatic problem is complicated by the fact that Russian president Vladimir Putin was also scheduled to come to the summit in Bali and this would have given him an early opportunity to exchange views with Obama on the resolution of Syria's chemical weapons programme. The Kremlin expressed disappointment a meeting would not now take place.
Perhaps inevitably, Obama's tour cancellation has been met with some glee within China. The latest joke doing the rounds this weekend is that the US president pulled out of the trip because he could not afford the air fare and the cost of his hotel bills.