It’s been hard to find in the general news cycle, but President Donald Trump made a historic trip to China this week and delivered a stunning speech to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) about his desire to help facilitate what he calls a “new chapter for the Indo-Pacific.”
The China portion of his week-long trip to Asia placed some focus on the recurring threat posed by North Korea, linking the concepts of trade with national security which Trump would reassert for the remainder of his trip. According to the White House, The United States and China “affirmed their commitment to strengthen bilateral cooperation on nuclear security, countering nuclear smuggling, and continuing support of global nuclear security. They reaffirmed their commitment to enhance regional capacity to prevent terrorists and criminals from acquiring nuclear and radioactive materials.”
Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping reportedly also discussed maritime issues and the need to reduce the risk that the US and China might butt heads militarily — as has been the case in the South China Sea. In a “candid and constructive exchange of views,” Trump and Xi reaffirmed mutual commitment to “free and open navigation for all nations.”
Which is the lead-in to the real star of this week’s trip: trade, specifically the introduction of a new direction in how the U.S. approaches trading partnerships. Trump went into detail at the APEC summit:
I will make 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. What we will no longer do is enter into large agreements that tie our hands, surrender our sovereignty, and make meaningful enforcement practically impossible.
Instead, we will deal on a basis of mutual respect and mutual benefit. We will respect your independence and your sovereignty. We want you to be strong, prosperous, and self-reliant, rooted in your history, and branching out toward the future. That is how we will thrive and grow together, in partnerships of real and lasting value.
But for this — and I call it the Indo-Pacific dream — if it’s going to be realized, we must ensure that all play by the rules, which they do not right now. Those who do will be our closest economic partners. Those who do not can be certain that the United States will no longer turn a blind eye to violations, cheating, or economic aggression. Those days are over.
Trump also underscored that as part of these new, potential trade agreements, the principles of fairness and reciprocity would be expected. “When the United States enters into a trading relationship with other countries or other peoples, we will, from now on, expect that our partners will faithfully follow the rules just like we do,” the President said. “We expect that markets will be open to an equal degree on both sides, and that private industry, not government planners, will direct investment.”
Trump also told APEC that he and President Xi had a conversation about unfair trade and extreme trade deficits the US shoulders as a result of those practices.
The current trade imbalance is not acceptable. I do not blame China or any other country, of which there are many, for taking advantage of the United States on trade. If their representatives are able to get away with it, they are just doing their jobs. I wish previous administrations in my country saw what was happening and did something about it. They did not, but I will.
Trump was successful in securing 37 trade deals with Chinese companies that will exceed $250 billion, something Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told CNBC was a good example of what bilateral trade might look like.
“American businesses are the most innovative in the world and, when given access, can compete with anyone,” Ross said. “I believe these deals can provide a solid foundation for a stronger relationship that is more free, fair, and reciprocal between the U.S. and China.”