Trump’s stance at Apec summit dents US global role

US President Donald Trump’s “America First” policy may be good for the US and the world as a whole but it seems to affect the US goal as the world dominant leader as witnessed in his visit to China and participation in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Danang, Vietnam last week.

APEC summit this time, attended by leaders from 21 Pacific Rim members to promote free trade throughout the Asia-Pacific region, focused on the issue of free trade and Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement, in which China and the US were playing different roles.

On his first day in office, President Trump signed an executive order removing the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and declared an end to the era of multinational trade agreements. The TPP is the 12-nation trade deal that included the United States, Japan, Mexico, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam, Peru, Chile, Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei.

Trump in China

The TPP was negotiated under former President Barack Obama, but never ratified by Congress.

Ahead of the summit, Ian Bremmer, president of the political consultancy Eurasia Group tweeted: “Every foreign leader I’ve spoken with at APEC thinks Trump presidency has been enormous gift for the Chinese.” President Trump’s latest remarks in Da Nang demonstrated the reasons why.

In his keynote speech at the summit, Trump sent a clear message to the Asia-Pacific region and even to the whole world that his administration will continue its “America First” policy and the rest of the world should take care of themselves.

“From this day forward, we will compete on a fair and equal basis. We are not going to let the United States be taken advantage of any more. 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,” he said.

In blunt language, Trump even attacked the general notion of multilateral and intergovernmental trade organizations — particularly the World Trade Organization (WTO) — right in front of a group of world leaders gathered for APEC — a typical multilateral trade entity.

In contrast, Chinese President Xi Jinping in his speech continued to defend globalization, free trade, and multilateral organizations, calling for further cooperation and integration in the Asia-Pacific region. “China will not slow its steps in opening up itself,” Xi said.

“We will work together with other countries to create new drivers of common development through the launching of the Belt and Road Initiative.”

He also promised that “all businesses registered in China will be treated as equals,” and that China will “grant more powers to pilot free trade zones to conduct reform, and explore the opening of free trade ports. China will “stick to the path of peaceful development” and “promote the building of a new type of international relations based on mutual respect, fairness and justice, and win-win cooperation.”

Analysts said no matter whether China will really abide by its promises in practice, Xi’s remarks above sounded much more appealing to the world than Trump’s striking rhetoric at the moment.

They added the latest development at the APEC summit showed that China once again made the right moves, while, unfortunately, the United States did not.

Former WTO chief Supachai Panitchpakdi earlier said at a seminar in Bangkok that America First actually would be good for the US and the rest of the world.  “It would be good for us if the US can help itself and not create problems for others.”

ASEAN countries should focus on the Regional Cooperation on Economic Partnership (RCEP) which has ASEAN as the center in collaboration with Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand if they want to ensure an equal growth path for all country members, he said.

Supachai likened the TPP to a political tool for the United States to maintain its power in Asia in light of the increasing influence of China.

He also said the RCEP is a positive mechanism to deal with geographic issues involving Asian countries.

“With RCEP, there is no need for these countries to go to war. Don’t forget that Asia is a big spender on defense.” He said it may be good for ASEAN and Thailand to join if TPP is to continue without the US and terms and the conditions of the agreement are renegotiated to benefit the real cooperation and solidarity among its members. “We should not allow the TPP to disintegrate ASEAN.”

The former WTO chief has called on ASEAN countries to make the best use of multilateral trade blocs, particularly under the aegis of ASEAN, to cope with the world’s economic turbulence.


Top: Leaders pose for the “family photo” at the APEC summit on Saturday Nov. 11. Photogrpaher: Hau Dinh/Pool/AFP via Getty Images via Bloomberg

Inset:  US President Donald Trump, second right, gestures toward China’s President Xi Jinping, third left, as US first lady Melania Trump, center, and Xi’s wife Peng Liyuan, right, look on at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, on Thursday Nov. 9, 2017. Photo:

By Kowit Sanandang