President Donald Trump criticized China and the World Trade Organization during a speech at the APEC summit in Vietnam.
Speaking to prominent business and political leaders of Asian-Pacific nations, Trump focused the importance of national sovereignty, trade reciprocity, and international norms.
Trump restated his commitment to putting his own country first while speaking to an APEC summit and defended the right for each country in Asia to assert their own sovereignty.
“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 at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit of CEOs.
The president did not specifically name China, but aggressively challenged specific abuses of certain member nations of the World Trade Organization.
“They ignored the rules to gain advantage over those who followed the rules, causing enormous distortions in commerce and threatening the foundations of international trade itself,” Trump said.
The WTO, he said, was unwilling to enforce the rules protecting intellectual property, product dumping, and currency manipulation — all behaviors attributed to the Chinese.
“Simply put, we have not been treated fairly by the World Trade Organization,” he said.
He spoke about the importance of fair rule-based economic trade.
“Economic security is national security,” he said as the audience applauded. “It is vital to our national strength.”
Trumprepeated his assertion that he did not blame foreign countries for enjoying large trade deficits with the United States. Instead, he put the blame on past U.S. presidents who lowered tariffs, reduced trade barriers and opened U.S. markets to foreign goods without equal economic concessions from other countries.
“We cannot achieve open markets if we do not ensure fair market access,” he said. “In the end, unfair trade undermines us all.”
The president asserted that trade agreements would change in his administration.
“I wish previous administrations in my country saw what was happening and did something about it,”
he said. “They did not, but I will.”
Despite withdrawing U.S. participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal, Trump expressed eagerness for bilateral trade with Asian and South Pacific countries.
“We seek robust trade relationships rooted in the principles of fairness and reciprocity,” he said.
The president praised the South Pacific nations, signaling his respect for each sovereign nation, appearing to push back against China’s attempt to dominate the region.
“With your help, this entire region has emerged – and it is still emerging — as a beautiful constellation of nations, each its own bright star, satellites to none — and each one, a people, a culture, a way of life, and a home,” he said.