Trump to Asia: Say goodbye to days of 'chronic trade abuses' with US

DANANG, Vietnam — President Donald Trump came to a major meeting with Asian countries armed with an awkward message for trading partners: no more Mr. Nice Guy.

Trump on Friday pledged to end years of "chronic trade abuses" that he said have plagued the U.S.

"I wish previous administrations in my country saw what was happening and did something about it," Trump said in a speech ahead of a summit of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders. "They did not. But I will."

Trump, who has made re-balancing relations between Asia and the U.S. a central plank of his "America First" policy, promised to boost "bilateral trade agreements with any Indo-Pacific nation that wants to be our partner and that will abide by the principles of fair and reciprocal trade."

But the U.S. would no longer be taken "advantage of" by nations operating in their own self-interest, said Trump, who is in Vietnam on the fourth leg of an 11-day trip through the region.

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President Trump, Melania Trump with Chinese President Xi Jinping
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President Trump, Melania Trump with Chinese President Xi Jinping
U.S. President Donald Trump, right, and Xi Jinping, China's president, greet attendees waving American and Chinese national flags during a welcome ceremony outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, on Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017. The White House expects to announce upwards of $250 billion in business deals in China this week, an administration official said -- exactly the sort of U.S. jobs-based diplomacy that Trump�likes to deliver when traveling abroad. Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images
U.S. President Donald Trump and U.S. first lady Melania visit the Forbidden City with China� President Xi Jinping and China� First Lady Peng Liyuan in Beijing, China, November 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump and U.S. first lady Melania visit the Forbidden City in Beijing, China, November 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump and China's President Xi Jinping leave after an opera performance at the Forbidden City in Beijing, China, November 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania enjoy an opera performance with China's President Xi Jinping at the Forbidden City in Beijing, China, November 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump and U.S. first lady Melania visit the Forbidden City with China's President Xi Jinping and China's First Lady Peng Liyuan in Beijing, China, November 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump looks at first lady Melania Trump next to Chinese President Xi Jinping as they tour the Conservation Scientific Laboratory of the Forbidden City in Beijing, China November 8, 2017. REUTERS/Andy Wong/Pool
U.S. President Donald Trump and U.S. first lady Melania visit the Forbidden City with China?s President Xi Jinping and China?s First Lady Peng Liyuan in Beijing, China, November 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping tour the Conservation Scientific Laboratory of the Forbidden City in Beijing, China November 8, 2017. Looking on is Chinese first lady Peng Liyuan at left and U.S. first lady Melania Trump at right. REUTERS/Andy Wong/Pool
U.S. President Donald Trump and U.S. first lady Melania visit the Forbidden City with China's President Xi Jinping and China's First Lady Peng Liyuan in Beijing, China, November 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump, first lady Melania and China's President Xi Jinping pose with opera performers at the Forbidden City in Beijing, China, November 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump and U.S. first lady Melania visit the Forbidden City with China's President Xi Jinping and China's First Lady Peng Liyuan in Beijing, China, November 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
US President Donald Trump tours the Conservation Scientific Laboratory of the Forbidden City in Beijing on November 8, 2017. US President Donald Trump toured the Forbidden City with Chinese leader Xi Jinping on November 8 as he began the crucial leg of an Asian tour intended to build a global front against North Korea's nuclear threats. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / Andy Wong (Photo credit should read ANDY WONG/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump arrive on Air Force One in Beijing on November 8, 2017. US President Donald Trump arrived in Beijing on November 8 for the critical leg of his Asia tour to drum up an uncompromising, global front against the nuclear weapons ambitions of the 'cruel dictatorship' in North Korea. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / THOMAS PETER (Photo credit should read THOMAS PETER/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump takes part in a welcoming ceremony with China's President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, November 9, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
U.S. President Donald Trump takes part in a welcoming ceremony at the Great hall of the People in Beijing, China, November 9, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
U.S. President Donald Trump takes part in a welcoming ceremony with China's President Xi Jinping in Beijing, China, November 9, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
Xi Jinping, China's president, left, and U.S. President Donald Trump look on during a welcome ceremony outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, on Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017. The White House expects to announce upwards of $250 billion in business deals in China this week, an administration official said -- exactly the sort of U.S. jobs-based diplomacy that Trump�likes to deliver when traveling abroad. Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Xi Jinping, China's president, left, gestures while standing next to U.S. President Donald Trump, during a welcome ceremony outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, on Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017. The White House expects to announce upwards of $250 billion in business deals in China this week, an administration official said -- exactly the sort of U.S. jobs-based diplomacy that Trump�likes to deliver when traveling abroad. Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images
BEIJING, CHINA - NOVEMBER 09: The convoy of US President Donald Trump makes its way through Tiananmen Square before the welcome ceremony on November 9, 2017 in Beijing, China. At the invitation of Chineses President Xi Jinping, U.S President Donald Trump is to pay a state visit to China from November 8 to 10. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
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Not that Trump blames other countries.

Reiterating comments made in China on Thursday, Trump said he wasn't calling out other nations for trading in ways that hurt America. If they are able to get away with those deals, he said, "they are just doing their jobs."

Gone are the days of "large agreements that tie our hands, surrender our sovereignty, and make meaningful enforcement practically impossible," added Trump.

The speech repeated the reasons Trump walked away from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement talks, and was a reminder of his belief that bilateral deals, not multilateral ones, were the best way to do business with the U.S.

The deal, pushed hard by the administration of former President Barack Obama, was essentially an attempt to create a single market for the U.S. and 11 other countries that border the Pacific Ocean, including Canada, Mexico and Chile.

Despite taking a cordial and conciliatory tone in Beijing a day earlier, Trump touched down in Vietnam ready to take on his Chinese counterparts, if not by name, then by calling out what he said were their unfair trade practices.

Product dumping, currency manipulation and predatory polices caused "enormous distortions in commerce," Trump said.

The president's harsh words Friday matched the hard-line tone he struck throughout the 2016 campaign. He once remarked that China was “raping” the United States on trade and vowed to take them to task on the issue if elected.

His softened stance in Asia this week marked a stark contrast from a year ago — but it also showed Trump’s willingness to speak diplomatically of President Xi Jinping to his face but then lambast China's trade practices to a different audience a day later.

Trump's message may have been abrupt, but it didn't stop the audience from giving Trump a standing ovation as he walked off stage. The same sea of dark suit coats and white dress shirts craned their necks and raised their cell phones to capture the president, applauding the strongly worded message — however complicated it might make the region's economic future.

Trump's approach on trade was starkly different to Xi's, who later said in a speech that globalization was an irreversible trend and came out in support for multilateral trade deals.

Xi drew loud applause when he called for a "multilateral trading regime" and progress toward a free-trade area in the region.

"We should continue to foster an open economy that benefits all. Openness brings progress while self-seclusion leaves one behind. We, the Asia-Pacific economies, know this only too well from our own development experience," he said.

China's economy grew to the world's second-largest after it opened itself up to more trade and investment following decades of isolation. APEC, which is made up of 21 Pacific Rim member economies and promotes free trade, has been convulsed by the changes under Trump. 

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