Trump, Xi differ on plans for trade ties with region

American President Donald Trump (left) and Chinese President Xi Jinping have offered starkly contrasting visions of their trade ties with the rest of the region.
American President Donald Trump (left) and Chinese President Xi Jinping have offered starkly contrasting visions of their trade ties with the rest of the region.PHOTO: REUTERS

Trump says US won't join multilateral pacts but Xi all for more open and inclusive globalisation

Leaders of the world's two largest economies have offered starkly contrasting visions of their trade ties with the rest of the region.

American President Donald Trump told business leaders at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) CEO Summit yesterday that the United States will no longer take part in multilateral trade pacts and will partner only countries that honour fair and reciprocal trade.

Speaking after him, Chinese President Xi Jinping said he would push for globalisation to be more open and inclusive, promising more opportunities for other countries as China grows.

Their speeches came as a much-anticipated leaders' meeting for the 11 members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was called off after the leaders, including Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, were stood up by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The TPP ministers met again last night to reaffirm a deal to take the pact forward, and are expected to issue a statement today, sources said.

Mr Trump, who dumped the TPP in January, said yesterday that the US would no longer enter into "large agreements that tie our hands, surrender our sovereignty and make meaningful enforcement practically impossible".

But he also sought to assuage concerns about US commitment to the region in a speech many were watching to see how his "America first" policy would play out.

Mr Trump said the US would make bilateral agreements with any Indo-Pacific nation and respect its sovereignty and independence as long as it abides by the principles of fair and reciprocal trade.

Admonishing the World Trade Organisation for looking the other way, he said to applause: "I am always going to put America first, the same way I expect all of you in this room to put your countries first."

Mr Xi pledged that China will continue to open up its economy. He said the experience of Asia-Pacific economies has shown that "openness brings progress, while self-seclusion leaves one behind".

Describing globalisation as an "irreversible historical trend", he said the world must work together to make it more inclusive and balanced. To this end, he said multilateral trade deals would help poorer countries benefit from global trade.

He urged Apec members to push for a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific, which would link Pacific Rim economies from China to Chile, and speed up negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership involving all 10 Asean members and six key partners, including China, Japan and India.

China has increasingly stepped into the void left by the US as the champion of free trade, and Mr Xi said his country knows full well "its responsibility" as the world's second largest economy.

In his first trip abroad after a successful party congress, he sought to show how other nations can benefit from China's growth. He promised more opportunities for others to "board China's express train of development" as it pursues new models of growth and business reforms.

He also spoke about the Belt and Road project, which aims to connect Eurasia through a network of roads and sea routes involving 65 countries, saying that while the initiative may be China's, it belongs to the rest of the world as well.

Calling on Apec economies to steer towards economic globalisation instead of dithering and stalling at the challenges, he said: "We must advance with the trend of times, live up to our responsibility and work together to deliver a bright future of development and prosperity for the Asia-Pacific."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 11, 2017, with the headline 'Trump, Xi differ on plans for trade ties with region'. Print Edition | Subscribe