Thu, 18 Oct 2018
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Trump touts ‘America First’ message at Asia conference

By Sheetal Sukhija, Hong Kong News
11 Nov 2017, 02:08 GMT+10

HANOI, Vietnam - Addressing a group of Pacific Rim nations eager for signs of the United States’ continued engagement and economic leadership in the region, U.S. President delivered a stern message in Vietnam. 

Speaking at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, Trump reiterated his “America First” trade message and clarified, “We are not going to let the United States be taken advantage of anymore.”

Trump said that the “U.S. will only cut deals with individual nations.”

The American president told business leaders gathered from across the region and around the world to discuss trade and development, "I am always going to put America first the same way that I expect all of you in this room to put your countries first."

Trump carried on his speech usually designed for arenas full of supporters, railing against unfair trade practices, closed factories and and Chinese economic aggression.

With most regional leaders at the conference trying to salvage a Pacific nations trade deal that Trump derailed, the American president received scattered applause through his half-hour speech.

Despite taking on a conciliatory tone during talks in Beijing, Trump offered harsher criticism of China during his speech on Friday, and while not mentioning the country by name, he spoke against countries that use "government-run industrial planning and state-owned enterprises" and engage in "product dumping, subsidized goods, currency manipulation and predatory industrial policies," echoing critiques from his campaign speeches.

He said, "They ignored the rules to gain advantage over those who followed the rules, causing enormous distortions in commerce and threatening the foundations of international trade itself.”

His statement came in tough contrast with his rhetoric in China, perhaps because he sought to build a warmer personal bond with President Xi Jinping during his visit to Beijing. 

The only time he mentioned China by name on Friday was when he blaming his predecessors rather than China for the U.S. trade deficit.

Trump said, “I do not blame China or any other country, of which there are many, for taking advantage of the United States on trade. If their representatives are able to get away with it, they are just doing their jobs. I wish previous administrations in my country saw what was happening and did something about it. They did not, but I will."

Trump's speech was followed immediately by an address from Xi Jinping, who celebrated globalization and open markets. 

Following Trump's rejection of the Trans-Pacific Partnership soon after taking office, Jinping has aggressively courted Asian trading partners, seeking to fill the leadership void in the region.

However, Trump’s administration has been stressing on the principal of a “free and open Indo-Pacific,” to bring India into the regional alliances to help balance China's growing power.

Trump has stressed that the U.S. would remain an important regional player but on far different terms than under Obama and other recent predecessors. 

President Obama, picking up from President George W. Bush’s early efforts, had brokered the Trans-Pacific Partnership in part to counter China and assert America’s place as a power in the region. 

The partnership was supported by many of the Asian allies Trump is visiting and addressing on his trip, and they have been apprehensive about U.S. intentions since he was elected, given his nationalist and anti-globalist platform.

Trump has said the U.S. would instead forge bilateral trade agreements with individual countries "that will abide by the principles of fair and reciprocal trade, while resisting multilateral agreements that tie our hands, surrender our sovereignty and make meaningful enforcement practically impossible."

He pitched his plans as a winning formula for everyone, "We will respect your independence and your sovereignty. We want you to be strong, prosperous and self-reliant, rooted in your history and branching out toward the future."

Trump, however, said the "Indo-Pacific dream" is only possible when all countries play by the rules. 

He said, “Those who do not can be certain that the United States will no longer turn a blind eye to violations, cheating or economic aggression. Those days are over."

Meanwhile, Jinping said, “The concept of globalization should pay more attention to openness and tolerance, while the direction should focus on balance. China will continue to build an open economy and work hard to achieve mutual benefits. Opening up will bring progress and those who close down will inevitably lag behind.”

Jinping vowed to continue opening the Chinese economy to foreign players and to undertake structural reforms, echoing remarks he delivered in Beijing on Thursday. 

He said, “In the next fifteen years, China wants to set up a new platform for the cooperation of all parties in entering the Chinese market.”

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