President Trump on Friday delivered what appeared to be a sharp rebuke to China's trade policy, saying he is “always going to put America first,” and promised that the U.S. would no longer “turn a blind eye” to trade abuses.
“From this day forward we will compete on a fair and equal basis,” Trump told a gathering of CEOs on the sidelines of the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vietnam. “We are not going to let the United States be taken advantage of anymore.”
Trump did not mention China by name during the fiery speech, but appeared to change his tone from the day earlier, when he said, “How can you blame China for taking advantage of people that had no clue?" Trump went on. "I would've done same!"
One of the cornerstones of Trump’s approach to trade has been his opposition to multi-lateral trade agreements. That includes the far-reaching Pacific Rim trade pact known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Trump pulled the U.S. out of as one of his first acts as president. The TPP was meant to be the foundation for forging a free-trade zone akin to the EU in the Asia-Pacific.
Leaders of the 11 remaining TPP members, representing roughly 13.5 percent of the global economy, were scheduled to meet on the sidelines of the APEC summit to seek an agreement in principle that would not require U.S. involvement.
But the prospects of that deal appeared in doubt Friday, as a meeting of the leaders of 11 countries still involved in the pact was delayed. There was no word on whether they had given up reaching agreement in Danang or were still working toward an agreement on how to move forward without U.S. involvement.
Meanwhile, a 16-member region-wide pact called the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership is also under negotiation. It encompasses China and India but also does not include the U.S.
In the speech, Trump said he had spoken “openly and directly” with Chinese President Xi Jinping during his visit about “about China’s unfair trade practices and the enormous trade deficits they have produced with the United States.”
Trump said China’s trade surplus, which stood at $223 billion for the first 10 months of the year, was unacceptable, and repeated his language from Thursday when he said he did “not blame China” or any other country “for taking advantage of the United States on trade.”
Trump tweeted early Friday, “The United States has been reminded time and again in recent years that economic security is not merely RELATED to national security - economic security IS national security. It is vital to our national strength.”
Trump also continued to talk tough against North Korea and its development of nuclear and ballistic missiles weapons, as he has throughout the trip.
“The future of this region and its beautiful people must not be held hostage to a dictator’s twisted fantasies of violent conquest and nuclear blackmail,” he said.
Trump referenced his address earlier this week in South Korea when he called on countries to unite against North Korea. He said “every single step the North Korea regime takes toward more weapons is a step it takes into greater and greater danger.”
APEC is the first of several summits Trump is scheduled to attend on his first official visit to Asia. It will be a change in pace the president, who has spent much of the week basking in elaborate welcome ceremonies and banquets, and meeting with the leaders of Japan, South Korea and China.
His schedule for Friday includes an official welcome event for world lead leaders attending the summit and their spouses, along with a gala dinner and cultural performance, before formal talks begin on Saturday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report