Trump hails Asia tour, says countries know US wants trade on fair terms

While returning to Washington on Air Force One on Tuesday, President Trump said he was 'very proud' of his 12-day trip to Asia from the standpoint of security, trade and building relationships.

US President Donald Trump speaks to the media at the 12th East Asia Summit in Manila on Nov 14, 2017.
US President Donald Trump speaks to the media at the 12th East Asia Summit in Manila on Nov 14, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

MANILA (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) -  President Donald Trump said on Tuesday (Nov 14) that he had made clear during his trip to Asia that the United States is open to trading with other countries, but only if conditions are fair for his country.

Trade and concern about possible protectionism under Trump’s “America First” agenda have come up during his regional visit, which has included stops in Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines.

“We’ve explained that the United States is open for trade but we want reciprocal, we want fair trade for the United States,” he told reporters in Manila during a summit of Asian leaders, where integrating economies and curbing protectionism has been on the agenda.

Trump also said his trip had resulted in at least US$300 billion (S$408 billion), possibly triple that figure, of deals being agreed. But he did not elaborate. 

The US president left the Philippines on Tuesday without attending an annual East Asia Summit (EAS), due to delays in the schedule of the programme of meetings.

Trump told reporters on Air Force One that he delivered his prepared remarks during a lunch with the leaders instead.  Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would attend Tuesday’s summit in his place, a senior White House official said.

The president had spent the bulk of his public appearances during his visit of Japan, South Korea, China, the Philippines and Vietnam emphasising the need to reduce trade deficits, and also pushed for Asian nations to buy US military equipment. 

He publicly advocated his “America first” policies, warning US trading partners that he was ready to take more protectionist steps in a bid to help American businesses and workers.

“After my tour of Asia, all Countries dealing with us on TRADE know that the rules have changed,” Trump said on Twitter on Tuesday. “The United States has to be treated fairly and in a reciprocal fashion. The massive TRADE deficits must go down quickly!”

Trump  also  announced on Twitter that he will be making a “major statement” when he returns to Washington. But while  he  made rhetorical waves during his first visit to the region as president, questions about how much he actually achieved continue to linger. 

Business deals announced by the president are tentative agreements that may not be fulfilled. And while the president railed against what he viewed as systemic flaws in the US trading relationship with its Asian partners, he neither publicly requested nor received specific assurances to address issues like market access and intellectual property theft. 

Instead, the president seemed to relish the efforts by Asian leaders to lavish him with state dinners and ceremonial welcomes. Each of his Asian hosts appeared eager to fete  Trump with elaborate parades and entertainment, in efforts that solicited warm praise from the US president – without the expense of actual policy concessions. 

Trump  and senior White House staff say that the red-carpet treatment was itself a win, and underscored new deference and respect for the US in relationships they say were worn thin by former President Barack Obama’s efforts within the region. 

And they argue that Trump will be able to capitalise the relationships in the future, parlaying his warm ties with Asian leaders into major concessions on trade, military sales and foreign policy.

“I made a lot of friends at the highest levels,”  Trump said on Tuesday.  Praising himself for “a tremendously successful trip,” he said  things had gone well from the moment he walked off the plane.