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Trump attacks countries ‘cheating’ America at Apec summit

 


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Trump attacks countries ‘cheating’ America at Apec summit” was written by Oliver Holmes in Da Nang and Tom Phillips in Beijing, for The Guardian on Friday 10th November 2017 15.32 UTC

Donald Trump has abruptly ended the diplomatic streak he displayed on his 12-day tour of Asia by launching a tirade against “violations, cheating or economic aggression” in the region, just hours after heaping lavish praise on China.

Speaking at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) conference in Da Nang, Vietnam, on Friday, the US president’s words had the tone of a fierce reprimand. The speech was clearly, sometimes explicitly, focused on China and other countries he blamed for predatory economic policies, accusing them of having “stripped” jobs, factories and industries out of the United States.

“We can no longer tolerate these chronic trade abuses and we will not tolerate them,” he said, with audio speakers in the large hall crackling as Trump raised his voice at times.

“Despite years of broken promises, we were told that someday soon everybody would behave fairly and responsibly. People in America and throughout the Indo-Pacific region have awaited that day to come but it never has and that is why I am here today,” he said.

How serious are the allegations?

The story of Donald Trump and Russia comes down to this: a sitting president or his campaign is suspected of having coordinated with a foreign country to manipulate a US election. The story could not be bigger, and the stakes for Trump – and the country – could not be higher.

What are the key questions?

Investigators are asking two basic questions: did Trump’s presidential campaign collude at any level with Russian operatives to sway the 2016 US presidential election? And did Trump or others break the law to throw investigators off the trail?

What does the country think?

While a majority of the American public now believes that Russia tried to disrupt the US election, opinions about Trump campaign involvement tend to split along partisan lines: 73% of Republicans, but only 13% of Democrats, believe Trump did “nothing wrong” in his dealings with Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin.

What are the implications for Trump?

The affair has the potential to eject Trump from office. Experienced legal observers believe that prosecutors are investigating whether Trump committed an obstruction of justice. Both Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton – the only presidents to face impeachment proceedings in the last century – were accused of obstruction of justice. But Trump’s fate is probably up to the voters. Even if strong evidence of wrongdoing by him or his cohort emerged, a Republican congressional majority would probably block any action to remove him from office. (Such an action would be a historical rarity.)

What has happened so far?

Former foreign policy adviser George Papadopolous pleaded guilty to perjury over his contacts with Russians linked to the Kremlin, and the president’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort and another aide face charges of money laundering.

When will the inquiry come to an end?

The investigations have an open timeline.

Trump addressed a largely mute and visibly stunned audience that included ministers from countries he accused of not “playing by the rules” as the US opened its economy with few conditions. “But while we lowered market barriers, other countries didn’t open their markets to us,” he said.

The US leader then went off-script to confront a man who was speaking audibly during the address and suggested he may be from a country that was cheating America.

“Funny, they must be from one of the beneficiaries,” Trump said, laughing. “What country to do you come from, sir?” he added rhetorically.

Just a day before, Trump had trodden relatively lightly in Beijing, accusing China of “taking advantage” of the US on trade but adding that he did not blame Beijing for having done so.

In Vietnam, hours after leaving Beijing, he was far less restrained. “The current trade imbalance is not acceptable,” he said. “The United States will no longer turn a blind eye to violations, cheating or economic aggression. Those days are over,” he added.

Previous US administrations had not done anything about the trade deficit, he said, “but I will … I am always going to put America first.”

China’s president, Xi Jinping, at the Apec summit in Da Nang, Vietnam.
China’s president, Xi Jinping, at the Apec summit in Da Nang, Vietnam.
Photograph: Anthony Wallace / Pool/EPA

In another dig at China, Trump hinted to other Asian nations that they were not beholden to Beijing or circling its orbit. Indo-Pacific countries represented a “beautiful constellation of nations, each a bright star, satellites to none”, he said.

The speech was markedly different from the reserved tone of the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, who spoke directly after Trump, although to much louder applause and cheers from the audience. Trump had spoken into one microphone, but organisers added three more to the podium before Xi took the stage.

Xi did not directly respond to Trump’s challenge on trade but sought to paint himself as a champion of economic openness, globalisation and the fight against climate change, in contrast to the isolationist US president.

He said: “Openness brings progress while self-seclusion leaves one behind … The road ahead will not be smooth but we will not give up on our dream.”

Unsurprisingly, panellists on China’s state-run broadcaster CGTN favoured Xi’s address.

Einar Tangen, an American commentator known for his pro-Beijing analysis, told the party-run channel the two Apec speeches represented “a historic moment”.

“If you listen to the applause [from the Apec audience] I think it is very clear that they are favouring the positive vision that Xi is laying out versus the very stark vision that Donald Trump was trying to sell,” Tangen said.

Trump’s desire to move away from regional free trade agreements – he prefers to make his own bilateral deals – has been in stark contrast to the words of other leaders at the Apec conference, which will continue on Saturday.

Many delegates had also hoped that meetings in Da Nang would help resuscitate a moribund Trans-Pacific Partnership. The multinational deal, promoted by Barack Obama as a way to avoid Chinese dominance in Asia, was aimed to eliminate tariffs and trade barriers across a large bloc of nations. But in one of his first acts of office, Trump withdrew from the act.

The annual Apec forum is based on opening markets away from the type of protectionism espoused by the US leader.

In contrast to Trump, who said the US would no longer “enter into large agreements that tie our hands”, Xi told Apec to “support the multilateral trading regime”.

On Friday evening Trump shook hands and exchanged some words with the Russian president Vladimir Putin as they greeted each other during a photo op before an Apec summit gala dinner. The two leaders had been expected to hold a formal meeting on the sidelines of the summit, but as Trump was about to land in Vietnam, the White House announced no meeting would take place, blaming scheduling conflicts.

The US president is scheduled to visit to the Vietnamese capital Hanoi on Saturday, before flying to the Philippines for the last leg of his Asian tour.

Donald Trump shakes hands with Vladimir Putin as they pose for a group photo ahead of the Apec summit gala dinner.
Donald Trump shakes hands with Vladimir Putin as they pose for a group photo ahead of the Apec summit gala dinner.
Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

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