Trump repeats call for fair trade as regional leaders urge closer ties

SPH Brightcove Video
US President Donald Trump says he's made significant progress on trade issues during a fruitful trip across Asia that saw governments roll out red carpets "like nobody has ever seen".
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (left) shaking hands with US President Donald Trump during the Asean-US Summit in Manila yesterday. The two leaders also held bilateral talks. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

United States President Donald Trump focused on trade in his first summit with Asean leaders yesterday, as he underscored the need for "reciprocity" in America's dealings with its trading partners.

"It was all trade," Mr Harry Roque, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's spokesman, told reporters after the Asean-US Summit.

He said Mr Trump reiterated calls he made at last week's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Danang, Vietnam, "that it is high time the US practises reciprocity". Mr Trump had told Pacific Rim leaders that the US would no longer tolerate "chronic trade abuses".

At the Asean-US Summit yesterday, which also marked 40 years of dialogue relations between both, other leaders underlined the importance of warm Asean-US ties.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, whose country currently coordinates Asean-US dialogue relations, delivered a common statement that reflected the multi-faceted and mutually beneficial strategic partnership between both sides.

In his remarks to fellow leaders, released to Singapore media, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong outlined the importance of economic relations between the US and South-east Asia, and suggested how they could be expanded.

"Asean is a key economic partner of the US and vice versa, with tremendous growth potential for US businesses," he said. He noted that the region is the US' fourth-largest trading partner and creates more than half a million jobs for Americans through trade in goods and services.

"With a combined population of over 600 million, a growing middle class and a youthful demographic that is adept at technology and adapting to the digital economy, Asean is a bright spot in the world economy," PM Lee said.

"Asean, and particularly Singapore, welcome and encourage the US' longstanding and constructive role in the region," he added, citing counter-terrorism and efforts to build a rules-based regional order.

"Your attendance at this summit is a positive step towards the sustained expansion of Asean-US relations under your administration."

Mr Trump also held bilateral talks with his Philippine counterpart. "We have a great relationship. This has been very successful," he told reporters.

White House spokesman Sarah Sanders said he briefly discussed human rights with Mr Duterte in the context of his war on drugs. But Mr Duterte's spokesman said "there was no mention of human rights, no mention of the extrajudicial killings". Mr Roque said Mr Duterte explained his anti-crime drive, and Mr Trump mostly just listened.

Mr Trump praised his host, saying "the Asean conference has been handled beautifully by the President of the Philippines, and I really enjoyed being here".

Mr Duterte had, at a gala dinner on Sunday, serenaded the leaders with a local love song. A verse began: "You are the light in my world, a half of this heart of mine."

SEE OPINION: Is US engagement back on track in East Asia?

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 14, 2017, with the headline Trump repeats call for fair trade as regional leaders urge closer ties. Subscribe