US President Donald Trump commended India and its prime minister, Narendra Modi, during a speech to CEOs at the APEC summit in Da Nang, Vietnam on Friday. His surprise praise was accompanied by a verbal salvo against China over trade.
The US president recognised India as the world’s largest democracy during his speech, a comment that roused polite applause. Trump then proceeded to praise the country’s economy and its leader.
‘Since India has opened its economy, it has achieved astounding growth, and a new world of opportunity for its expanding middle class. And Prime Minister Modi has been working to bring that vast country and all of it people together as one. And he is working at it very, very successfully indeed.’
It’s not clear if Trump’s comments were written or improvised, though they reflected his characteristic hyperbole. The American president also criticized Chinese trade practices, barely a day after he left Beijing, where he was more conciliatory in his public pronouncements.
’We are not going to let the United States be taken advantage of anymore. I am always going to put America first,’ Trump said.
Railing against ‘unfair’ trade
Trump will fly to the Vietnamese capital Hanoi on Saturday for bilateral meetings with President Tran Dai Quang and other senior leaders. From there he’ll land in Manila, Philippines on Sunday for the East Asia Summit where he’ll also meet Modi.
The American president’s first task in Vietnam was to convince his hosts- and leaders from other countries present in Da Nang- that the US is still committed to the region. But he’s not done very well so far. Trump’s own record is not encouraging. He took his country out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership soon after assuming power. And he’s railed against what he believes are unfair trade practices, even with close allies like South Korea.
Trump’s speech to CEOs did not inspire confidence either. He stressed his country was only interested in bilateral trade agreements based on ‘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,’ Trump said.
He warned that those who did not play by the new rules, ‘can be certain that the United States will no longer turn a blind eye to violations, cheating, or economic aggression.’
While Trump’s words may have partially been directed at China, other APEC countries are not going to be reassured they have a viable partner in the United States.