DANANG, Vietnam – President Donald Trump on Friday vowed to protect U.S. interests against foreign exploitation, preaching a starkly unilateralist approach to leaders who once pinned their economic hopes on a regional trade pact led by the U.S.
"We are not going to let the United States be taken advantage of anymore," Trump told business leaders at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Danang, Vietnam. "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."
Early Saturday, trade ministers from 11 Pacific Rim countries said they reached an agreement to proceed with the free-trade Trans-Pacific Partnership deal that was in doubt after Trump abandoned it. A statement said the accord was reached on "core elements" of the pact.
Taking the stage at the same meeting immediately after Trump, President Xi Jinping of China delivered a sharply contrasting message, championing more robust engagement with the world. Xi used his own speech to make a spirited defense of globalization, saying relations among countries should be "more open, more inclusive, more balanced, more equitable and more beneficial to all."
Trump's remarks were strikingly hostile for an audience that included leaders who had supported the original TPP, then a sweeping 12-nation accord from which Trump withdrew immediately after taking office.
And it indicated the degree to which, under Trump, the U.S. — once a dominant voice guiding discussions about trade at gatherings such as APEC — has ceded that role.
Promising to pursue "mutually beneficial commerce" through bilateral trade agreements, Trump roundly condemned the kind of multilateral accords his predecessors had pursued. His talk echoed his statements in China earlier this week that blamed weak U.S. leadership for trade imbalances that he said had stripped jobs, factories and entire industries from the United States.
"What we will no longer do is enter into large agreements that tie our hands, surrender our sovereignty and make meaningful enforcement practically impossible," Trump said.
He also spoke witheringly about an approach he said had led the U.S. to lower its trade barriers, only to have other countries refuse to do so, and he accused the World Trade Organization of treating the U.S. unfairly.
Many of his toughest lines — his vow to fight the "audacious theft" of intellectual property from U.S. companies — were aimed at China.
Trump said that he did not blame China or other countries for taking advantage of weak U.S. laws. "If their representatives are able to get away with it, they are just doing their jobs," he said. "I wish previous administrations in my country saw what was happening and did something about it. They did not, but I will."
Trump spoke of the need for freedom of navigation — a reference to the South China Sea, which Vietnam, Malaysia and other countries complain Beijing is turning into a private waterway. But the president stopped short of calling out China by name.
He also did not fault China or his host, Vietnam, for their checkered human rights records, even as he offered a general endorsement of the rule of law and individual rights.
As in his speech to the United Nations in September, Trump emphasized the idea of sovereignty, a concept that is often seen as being at odds with global cooperation and that is sometimes used by countries to fend off interference by outside powers.
He closed the speech with a paean to the virtues of home: "In all of the world, there is no place like home."