Trump brings tough trade message in vision for Asia

By VnExpress, Reuters   November 10, 2017 | 12:30 pm GMT+7

The U.S. president addresses the key APEC Summit and bills the concept of a 'free and open Indo-pacific region.'

U.S. President Donald Trump set out a strong message on trade at a meeting of Asia-Pacific countries in Vietnam on Friday, saying the United States could no longer tolerate chronic trade abuses and would insist on fair and equal policies.

Trump said the United States was ready to make a bilateral deal with any country in the Indo-Pacific region, but only on the basis of "mutual respect and mutual benefit."

"When the United States enters into a trading relationship with other countries or other peoples, we will from now on expect that our partners will faithfully follow the rules," he said in the seaside resort of Da Nang.

"We expect that markets will be open to an equal degree on both sides and that private investment, not government planners, will direct investment," he said in a speech ahead of a summit of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders.

The difference between Trump's and China's approaches was made more stark by comments in a later speech from Chinese President Xi Jinping, who said globalization was an irreversible trend and voiced support for multilateral trade deals.

While China has by far the biggest trade surplus with the United States, Vietnam is also on the list of those surpluses the Trump administration seeks to reduce.

APEC, which has long championed free trade, has itself been convulsed by the changes under Trump.

Since Trump abandoned the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal early in his presidency, the remaining 11 members have struggled to build momentum to keep it alive.

Leaders of TPP countries are due to meet on Friday after talks among ministers ended in confusion on Thursday with Japan's economy minister saying that they "agree in principle" and his Canadian counterpart saying that was not true.

Trump broke early with the "Pivot to Asia" of the Obama administration, worrying some traditional allies that he would allow China to extend its increasing dominance.

Da Nang itself sits on the shore of the East Sea, internationally known as the South China Sea, one of the region's biggest security headaches and where China's neighbors challenge its sweeping claim to most of the waterway as having no basis in law.

Trump said the region's future depended on upholding "freedom of navigation and overflight, including open shipping lanes". He also mentioned "territorial expansion" among evils such as drugs, people smuggling and terrorism.

Vietnam has become one of the most vocal critics of China's claims in the troubled waters and its construction of artificial islands.

In a sign of possible competition with China's grand Belt and Road plan, Trump said he would push the World Bank and Asian Development Bank to fund infrastructure development and would reform U.S. development finance institutions.

Trump said that would "provide strong alternatives to state directed initiatives that come with many strings attached".

"Above all, we seek friendship and we don’t dream of domination," he said.

Although he was addressing a meeting alongside the summit of Asia-Pacific leaders, Trump repeatedly referred to the Indo-Pacific region and mentioned the importance of India in his speech. (Read his full speech here.)

Trump touched down in Da Nang on Friday noon for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), where he's expected to sell America's new Asia policy to leaders of 21 Pacific Rim countries, including Russia's Vladimir Putin and China's Xi Jinping, who's also expected to speak at the summit later on.

Trump is promoting the concept of a “free and open Indo-pacific region”. Japan first floated this idea, tailored to push the U.S. to coalesce three other maritime democracies — Japan, Australia, and India. According to American officials, this sales pitch is aimed at demonstrating America and the Trump administration’s commitment to the Indo-Pacific region.

But political rhetoric only will not be enough to reassure a region increasingly anxious about U.S. commitment, analysts say.

“Some of Trump's statements and actions since he came to power have undermined the U.S. strategic position in the region, but most regional countries would like to see Washington's continued engagement with the region,” Le Hong Hiep, a research fellow at the Iseas Yusof Ishak Institute, said.

"As such, his concept of a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’ is likely to be welcomed by most regional countries,” Hiep said. “But again, at this stage, it is just a policy concept. Washington needs to follow up with concrete actions aimed at maintaining and strengthening economic and strategic engagement with the region to restore its strategic position in this part of the world.”

His attendance at the APEC Summit is part of his 13-day five-nation Asia tour, the longest tour of Asia by any U.S. president since George Bush in late 1991. Trump had planned to skip the East Asia Summit, a key gathering of Southeast Asian leaders in the Philippines on November 13. He only made a last-minute change to attend apparently at the request of other leaders.

“It is still not too late for the U.S.," Dennis C. McCornac, an economics professor at Loyola University Maryland in Baltimore, said, "to come to its senses and understand that this so-called 'American first' policy is really a disguised form of isolation – a policy that will and has never really worked for any country.” 

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U.S. President Donald Trump at Da Nang International Airport, Vietnam on November 10, 2017. Photo by VnExpress

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The U.S. delegation crosses Da Nang's iconic Dragon Bridge. Photo by VnExpress

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Da Nang residents trying to snap a photo of the Beast, the car carrying Trump. Photo by VnExpress


Contrary to some media reports, Trump will not hold a meeting with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of APEC, the White House said Friday.

"Regarding a Putin meeting, there was never a meeting confirmed, and there will not be one that takes place due to scheduling conflicts on both sides," press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters minutes before Air Force One touched down in Da Nang.

Trump's attendance at the APEC Summit is part of his 13-day five-nation Asia tour, the longest tour of Asia by any U.S. president since George Bush in late 1991.