Trump told the audience of Asia-Pacific leaders in the coastal city of Da Nang it was time to put “America first”, adding the US won’t be “taken advantage of anymore”.
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“We can no longer tolerate these chronic trade abuses, and we will not tolerate them. From this day forward, we will compete on a fair and equal basis,” said Trump. “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.”
The US president denounced the “audacious theft of intellectual property” and “destructive practices of forcing businesses to surrender their technology to the state”. He pledged to work with individual countries in mutually beneficial economic relationships.
“We seek friendship, and we don’t dream of domination,” he said.
The economies of APEC’s 21 nations – with some three billion people – represent about 60 percent of the global gross domestic product.
Trump said he wants to deal with strong and prosperous nations in the region. “I call it the Indo-Pacific dream. If it’s going to be realised, we must ensure that all play by the rules, which they do not right now.”
China has the largest trade surplus with the United States and Trump didn’t shy away from pointing the finger directly at Beijing during his speech.
President Xi Jinping – leader of the world’s largest communist country – said globalisation was an “irreversible trend” but added it must become more balanced and inclusive. In contrast to Trump, Xi touted the benefits of multilateral trade deals.
“Should we steer economic globalisation, or should we dither and stall in the face of challenge? Should we jointly advance regional cooperation, or should we go our separate ways?” Xi asked. “Openness brings progress, while self-seclusion leaves one behind.”
Xi added: “We, the Asia Pacific economies, know this too well from our own development experience. We should put in place a regional cooperation framework that ensures consultation among equals with participation and shared benefits.”
Deborah Elms, executive director of the Asian Trade Centre, told Al Jazeera the speeches by the leaders of the two most powerful economies differed significantly.
Trump’s speech was all about the United States and its trade grievances, while Xi’s was more open and inclusive, focusing on the prosperity of the region and its future, she said.
“The contrast was quite striking and quite stark,” Elms said. “I think it’s a real problem for the US because this speech was billed as the opportunity for Trump to outline the US vision under his leadership.
“At the end of it, it wasn’t clear exactly what the United States is going to do under him, except for bilaterals – ‘come join us in our vision’.”
The APEC annual gathering sees dozens of world leaders congregate along with more than 2,000 corporate executives. The grouping was formed in 1989 and promotes economic liberalisation and free trade.