Trump says Vietnam-US trade should be a 'two-way street'

By VnExpress, Reuters   November 12, 2017 | 08:22 am GMT+7

The U.S. president has also told his Vietnamese counterpart Tran Dai Quang he was prepared to mediate between claimants to the East Sea.

U.S. President Donald Trump began his state visit to Vietnam on Sunday morning after ramming home a strong message on trade at an Asia-Pacific summit in the central city of Da Nang.

During a joint press briefing, President Quang said Trump’s state visit marks a milestone in Vietnam-U.S. relations and sets the momentum for a more substantive and stable comprehensive partnership.

Trump also hailed the progressive relationship between the two countries, praising Vietnam’s “beauty” and “hospitality”.

He repeated his APEC speech themes of free Indo-Pacific trade relations, saying the U.S. is looking forward to “fair and reciprocal” bilateral trade with Vietnam. Vietnam is the U.S.’s biggest trade partner in Southeast Asia but the U.S.deficit with Vietnam has been a concern for Trump’s protectionism policy.

“The U.S. is enthusiastic about reforms that promote economic transparency for all in Vietnam” and about looking to “remove unfair trade practices in the region,” he said at the briefing.

Trump also called for cooperation in maritime security, counter terrorism and human and drug trafficking. He said he would discuss the “growing threat” from North Korea during the next stop of his Asia tour in the Philippines.

“All responsible nations must act now to make sure North Korea stops threatening the world.”

“We want progress not provocation. We want stability not chaos, peace not war,” he said.

Click here to read the joint statement in full.

US president Donald Trump (L) gestures as he poses with his Vietnamese counterpart Tran Dai Quang during a welcoming ceremony at the presidential palace in Hanoi on November 12, 2017.

U.S. president Donald Trump (L) gestures as he poses with his Vietnamese counterpart Tran Dai Quang during a welcoming ceremony at the presidential palace in Hanoi on November 12, 2017. Photo by AFP/Hoang Dinh Nam

Before the press briefing, Trump said he was prepared to mediate between claimants to the South China Sea (which Vietnam calls the East Sea), which include Vietnam and China.

"If I can help mediate or arbitrate, please let me know," Trump said in comments at the start of a meeting in Hanoi with Vietnam's president, Tran Dai Quang.

Trump acknowledged that China's position on the South China Sea, nearly all of which is claimed by Beijing, was a problem. "I'm a very good mediator and arbitrator," he said.

President Quang said Vietnam believed in handling disputes on the South China Sea through peaceful negotiations and on the basis of international laws.

Trump touched down in Hanoi’s Noi Bai International Airport on Saturday evening and attended a state dinner hosted by Vietnamese president Tran Dai Quang.

Quang hosted on Sunday morning the formal welcoming ceremony for Trump, who is also scheduled to meet with Vietnam’s Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong and Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc.

Welcoming ceremony

US President Donald Trump, accompanied by his Vietnamese counterpart Tran Dai Quang, observe national anthems during a welcoming ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Hanoi on November 12, 2017. Trump arrived in the Vietnamese capital on November 11 after attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit leaders meetings earlier in the day in Danang. KHAM / POOL / AFP

U.S. President Donald Trump, accompanied by his Vietnamese counterpart Tran Dai Quang, observe national anthems during a welcoming ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Hanoi on November 12, 2017. Photo by AFP/Kham/Pool

US President Donald Trump, accompanied by his Vietnamese counterpart Tran Dai Quang, inspects a guard of honour during a welcoming ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Hanoi on November 12, 2017. Photo by AFP/Jim Watson

U.S. President Donald Trump, accompanied by his Vietnamese counterpart Tran Dai Quang, inspects a guard of honor during a welcoming ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Hanoi on November 12, 2017. Photo by AFP/Jim Watson

Trump's 'America First' policy

Addressing the key Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit on Friday, in a striking departure from the standard stance on trade by his predecessors, Trump highlighted the “America First” policy that he said would protect American jobs and prevent other countries from cashing in on his country.

Trump was leaving Da Nang at a time when countries in the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, which Trump nixed right after taking office, have agreed on the core elements to move ahead without the U.S.

Vietnam is Southeast Asia’s biggest exporter to the U.S. Many in Vietnam had hoped the TPP, a mammoth trade deal whose 12 members would have made up nearly 40 percent of global GDP, would play a crucial role as a cushion for Hanoi against China.

It is in this context that "Trump's immediate scrapping of the TPP did much to unnerve the Vietnamese leadership, who saw the agreement as more than a trade deal, but as a strategic anchor for the United States," said Zachary Abuza, a Southeast Asia expert at the National War College in Washington.

Trump holding fast to his "America first" policy at the APEC Summit is indicative of “his insistence on rewriting bilateral trade agreements, and eschewing multilateral agreements", Abuza said.

But still, Vietnam just cannot afford to alienate the American president, no matter how unpredictable his diplomacy is.

Last May, Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc became the first Southeast Asian leader to pay an official visit to the White House, in a bid to gauge Trump's policies towards the flashpoint East Sea, tensions over which have pitted Beijing against Hanoi.

"Vietnam has proven to be highly pragmatic in fostering early engagements with the Trump administration," said Le Hong Hiep, a Vietnamese research fellow at the Iseas Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore. "Vietnamese diplomats have also learned how to play along with Trump's transactional diplomacy."

On the diplomatic front, to many analysts, Trump’s agenda seems pretty clear.

“His style of diplomacy is very simple and very transactional,” Abuza said. “From what we have seen of Trump's international visits so far, it's going to be a lot of ‘what are you going to do for us?’ This is red meat to his base.”

Right after Trump, Chinese President Xi Jingping will also pay a state visit to Vietnam. At the APEC Summit, Xi, who spoke directly after Trump, sought to cast himself as a champion of globalization and economic openness, throwing support behind multilateral trade deals.

“China watches any developments in US -Vietnamese relations with concern,” Abuza said. “They have gained dividends from Trump’s withdrawal from the TPP.”