Trump Pitches ‘America First’ Trade Policy at Asia-Pacific Summit

And it indicated the degree to which, under Mr. Trump, the United States — once a dominant voice guiding discussions about trade at gatherings such as APEC — has ceded that role. Even as he was railing against multilateral approaches, the remaining 11 countries in the Trans-Pacific Partnership were negotiating intensively to seal the agreement. Under the terms being discussed, the United States could re-enter the pact in the future.

Mr. Trump spoke witheringly about an approach he said had led the United States to lower its own trade barriers, only to have other countries refuse to do so, and he accused the World Trade Organization of treating the United States unfairly.

Many of the president’s toughest lines — his vow to fight the “audacious theft” of intellectual property from American companies and the forced transfer of technology to foreign firms — were aimed at China.

But Mr. Trump avoided criticizing China’s president, Xi Jinping, personally. And he repeated his contention that he did not blame China, or any other country, for taking advantage of what he called weak American trade laws.

“If their representatives are able to get away with it, they are just doing their jobs,” the president said. “I wish previous administrations in my country saw what was happening and did something about it. They did not, but I will.”

White House officials had framed Mr. Trump’s speech as a chance to articulate the theme of a “free and open Indo-Pacific” region, which the Trump administration has adopted as its answer to former President Barack Obama’s pivot to Asia. First proposed by the Japanese, it envisions the United States strengthening ties with three other democracies in the region — Australia, India and Japan — in part to counter a rising China. But the president offered few details about that approach.

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Trump’s Striking Change in Tone on China

Since his election, President Trump has gone from hammering China on trade policy to praising President Xi Jinping for his country’s response to North Korea.


By ROBIN LINDSAY on Publish Date November 8, 2017.


Photo by Doug Mills/The New York Times.

Watch in Times Video »

He spoke of the need for freedom of navigation — a reference to the South China Sea, which Vietnam, Malaysia and other countries complain Beijing is turning into a private waterway. But the president stopped short of calling out China by name.

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He also did not fault China or his host, Vietnam, for their checkered human rights records, even as he offered a general endorsement of the rule of law and individual rights.

As in his speech to the United Nations in September, Mr. Trump emphasized the idea of sovereignty, a concept that is often seen as being at odds with global cooperation and that is sometimes used by countries to fend off interference by outside powers.

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He closed the speech with an inward-looking paean to the virtues of home, declaring, “In all of the world, there is no place like home,” adding that nations should “protect your home, defend your home, and love your home today and for all time.”

Immediately after Mr. Trump left the stage, Mr. Xi took his place, delivering a starkly contrasting speech that argued for pursuing the kinds of global initiatives that Mr. Trump had shunned. The Chinese leader championed the Paris climate accord, called globalization an “irreversible historical trend” and said China would continued to pursue a free trade area in the Asia-Pacific.

As Mr. Trump arrived in Danang, the White House announced that he would not hold formal talks with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia on the sidelines of the APEC summit meeting, as he had said he expected to, in part to plead for Moscow’s assistance in countering the threat from North Korea. Officials cited scheduling issues as the reason the two leaders would not meet, but on Thursday, Rex W. Tillerson, the secretary of state, had said that a conversation between Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin was “still under consideration” and that a final decision would hinge on whether there was “sufficient substance” to warrant face-to-face talks.

American and Russian officials had been working to facilitate a meeting, and it was not clear why they had fallen short. But Mr. Trump’s last encounter with Mr. Putin — on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit meeting in Hamburg, Germany — posed political challenges for the White House, which faced questions about whether and how sharply Mr. Trump would rebuke his Russian counterpart for meddling in the 2016 elections.

Mr. Trump was later criticized for not having pressed Mr. Putin more strongly in an hourslong meeting on the election interference, and by revelations that the two had a second, undisclosed discussion at a leaders’ dinner that night. Diplomats described being stunned to see the two presidents chatting intimately with only a Kremlin interpreter present.

The optics of a meeting this week would have been particularly tricky, given new revelations about the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russians, brought to light by the investigations into Moscow’s attempts to sway the American election in Mr. Trump’s favor.

The White House did not entirely rule out a discussion in Vietnam, however.

“Are they going to bump into each other and say hello?” Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said to reporters traveling with Mr. Trump as Air Force One was landing in Danang. “Certainly possible and likely. But in terms of a scheduled, formal meeting, there’s not one on the calendar, and we don’t anticipate that there will be one.”

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The change in plans appeared to have left the Kremlin embittered. Asked about the absence of a meeting, Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, told a Russian TV reporter: “Ask the Americans. We are not speaking on this matter at all.”

Mr. Lavrov noted that Mr. Trump himself had said last week that he would most likely meet with Mr. Putin during the trip.

“I don’t know what his bureaucrats are saying,” Mr. Lavrov added.

Neil MacFarquhar contributed reporting from Moscow.


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