DANANG, VIETNAM - Leaders of the world's two largest economies on Friday (Nov 10) offered starkly contrasting priorities for their trade ties with the rest of the region.
US President Donald Trump told business leaders gathered at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) CEO Summit that the US would stress fair and reciprocal trade that would put America First.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, speaking right after him, said China would push for an open, inclusive region and work towards the grouping's goal of a having a free trade area of the Asia-Pacific.
While they spoke, a much-anticipated agreement to take the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal forward did not materialise after a no-show by Canada led to the postponement of a scheduled meeting between leaders of the 11 TPP member countries, including Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
Mr Trump had abandoned the deal last year saying it would cost US jobs, and on Friday reiterated that the US would no longer enter into "large agreements that tie our hands, surrender our sovereignty, and make meaningful enforcement practically impossible".
Even then, he sought to assuage concerns about US commitment to the region, offering to make bilateral agreements with "any Indo-Pacific nation that wants to be our partner", but only those who abide by the principles of fair and reciprocal trade.
He added that the US would deal with countries in the region on a basis of mutual repect and benefit and will respect their sovereignty and independence.
Declaring that he had come to the Vietnamese coastal city to "speak frankly" about the challenges ahead, Mr Trump said the US would no longer tolerate "chronic trade abuses".
"We will, from now on, expect that our partners will faithfully follow the rules just like we do. We expect that markets will be open to an equal degree on both sides, and that private industry, not government planners, will direct investment," he said in a speech many were watching for clues on how his "America First" policy would play out.
For too long, he said, the US had lowered trade barriers to others without reciprocity.
He also criticised the World Trade Organisation for embracing the countries that did not abide by its principles of open trade, saying this was unfair to the US and those who played by the rules.
Without naming any specific countries, he said the US had promoted private enterprise and innovation, while other countries had used government-run industrial planning and state-owned enterprises to engage in "product dumping, subsidized goods, currency manipulation, and predatory industrial policies".
Such practices have hurt the US and threatened the foundations of international trade itself, he said.
But Mr Trump said he did not blame countries such as China that have taken advantage of the trade imbalance to the detriment of the US, saying they were just doing their job.
He said previous US administrations should have stopped it, pledging that he would now do so.
"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," he said to applause.
Speaking after the US President, Mr Xi put forth a differing vision of trade, pledging that China will continue to open up its economy.
He said the development 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.
He also defended multilateral trade deals, which he said would help poorer countries benefit from international trade.
In particular, he urged Apec members to push for a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP), which aims to link Pacific Rim economies from China to Chile. He also said that China was committed to speeding up negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership - a trade pact among all 10 Asean members and six key partners.
China has increasingly stepped into the void left by the US as the champion of free trade, and Mr Xi said yesterday that his country knows full well "its responsibility" as the world's second largest economy.
Over the years, China has developed an economy with more effective market mechanisms, he said.
Mr Xi, who comes to the Apec meeting fresh from a successful consolidation of power at home at his Communist Party's national congress, also sought to show how other countries can benefit from China's growth.
Devoting part of his speech to developments in China, he promised more opportunities for others to "board China's express train of development" as his country pursues new models of growth and business reforms.
He also spoke about its signature Belt and Road project, which aims to connect the world through a network of roads and sea routes involving 65 countries.
While the initiative may be China's, it belongs to the rest of the world as well, he said.
Mr Xi urged Apec economies to steer economic globalisation, instead of dithering and stalling at the challenges.
"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," he said.