President Trump ’s time in Vietnam was overwhelmed by his statements about Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections.
President Trump arrived in Da Nang, Vietnam on Nov 10, for the fourth leg of his 12-day Asian tour. At around 9:25 am local, Trump arrived at the Intercontinental Da Nang Sun Palace Resort to attend two days of APEC CEO Summit meetings.
At the start of the summit, Trump delivered an address which has since been referred to as the “American first” speech by media outlets.
Referring to his 12-day Asia tour, Trump stated in his address that at every country he has traveled to on his trip thus far, he has “had the honor of sharing our vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific,” a vision he later dubbed “the Indo-Pacific dream.”
In Trump’s Indo-Pacific dream, “sovereign and independent nations, with diverse cultures and many different dreams, can all prosper side-by-side, and thrive in freedom and in peace.”
The reason why this dream has yet to be realized, according to President Trump, is because certain countries have “ignored the rules to gain an advantage over those who followed the rules, causing enormous distortions in commerce and threatening the foundations of international trade itself.”
“The current trade imbalance is not acceptable,” Trump continued. “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.”
Echoing his statements in China earlier this week, Trump stated “I wish previous administrations in my country saw what was happening and did something about it. They did not, but I will.”
President Trump told business leaders at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Danang, Vietnam that the US will no longer tolerate countries who do not compete on a fair and equal basis. “We are not going to let the United States be taken advantage of anymore,” Trump stated. “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.”
President Xi Jinping of China, who delivered his address directly after Trump, took on a very different tone than his American counterpart. In his speech, Xi encouraged economic globalization, which he called “an irreversible historical trend.”
“We should continue to foster an open economy that benefits all. Openness brings progress while self-seclusion leaves one behind,” Xi continued.
After two economic leaders meetings, a “family photo,” and a working lunch in Da Nang (none of which American print reporters, wire reporters, or still photographers were permitted to partake in), Trump left for Hanoi, Vietnam on Nov 11 to visit President Tran Dai Quang and other senior Vietnamese leaders.
On board Air Force One, Trump held a press gaggle en route to Hanoi which was dominated by questions regarding Russia’s interference with the 2016 US elections. At the summit, Trump had briefly shaken hands and chatted with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines. Russia has long been suspected of interfering with the 2016 US presidential election, but on Saturday Trump told reporters that Putin denied meddling in the election.
“He said he didn’t meddle,” Trump said in response to a reporter who asked if Russia’s meddling in the elections came up in the conversations between Trump and Putin during the summit. “He said he didn’t meddle. I asked him again. You can only ask so many times. But I just asked him again, and he said he absolutely did not meddle in our election. He did not do what they’re saying he did.”
Despite evidence from intelligence officials, Trump stated “Every time [Putin] sees me he says, ‘I didn’t do that,’ and I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it. But he says, ‘I didn’t do that.’ I think he’s very insulted by it if you want to know the truth.”
When asked if he believed if Putin was telling the truth, Trump responded “Well, look, I can’t stand there and argue with him. I’d rather have him get out of Syria, to be honest with you. I’d rather have him — you know, work with him on the Ukraine than standing and arguing about whether or not — because that whole thing was set up by the Democrats.”
Trump went on to call the accusations against Russia the “artificial Democrat barrier,” and expressed disappointment in there being such a thing.
“If we had a relationship with Russia, that would be a good thing,” Trump continued. “In fact, it would be a great thing, not a bad thing. Because he could really help us in North Korea.”
President Trump went on to talk about the lack of chemistry that existed between the American Democrats and the Russians, which Trump claims is the reason why the two cannot sustain a good relationship.
“The Democrats wanted to have a good relationship with Russia, but they couldn’t do it because they didn’t have the talent to do it,” Trump stated. “They didn’t have the chemistry to do it. They didn’t have what it takes to do it. You know, there is a talent to that.”
Trump continued: “But I think Putin and I — President Putin and I would have a great relationship, and that would be great for both countries. And it would take a lot of the danger out because we’re really — you know, this is a dangerous time.”
In Hanoi, Trump backtracked on his previous statements regarding Russia in a joint press conference with Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang. President Trump clarified his earlier assertion by saying “What I said is, I believe [Putin] believes that. I believe that he feels that he and Russia did not meddle in the election. As to whether I believe it or not, I’m with our agencies, especially as currently constituted, with their leadership.”
“I believe in our intel agencies,” Trump continued. “I’ve worked with them very strongly.”
During the joint press conference, Trump reiterated once again the commitment of the US to promote a “free and open Indo-Pacific, where strong, independent nations respect each other’s sovereignty, uphold the rule of law, and advance responsible commerce.”
We want our partners in the Indo-Pacific to be proud and self-reliant,” Trump continued, “not proxies or satellites.”
Later that night, at 8:10 pm local, President Trump attended a state dinner with Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang at International Convention Center in Hanoi, Vietnam. The two leaders stood while a military band played and the US and Vietnamese anthems.
President Quang offered up a toast to President Trump at the dinner, welcoming Trump to Vietnam and praising his successful time at the APEC CEO summit in Da Nang.
Trump, in turn, toasted to the “long way” that the US and Vietnam relationship has come over the years and the “spectacular job” that President Quang and the Vietnamese people are doing.
The following morning, Nov 12, Trump attended bilateral meetings with Vietnamese President Quang as well as with the Secretary-General and Prime Minister of Vietnam.
During his meeting with President Quang, at 9:14 am local, Trump gave his condolences to all those affected by Typhoon Damrey and thanked Vietnam for its respectful welcome to him and his delegation. Trump also, somewhat randomly, offered up his services to help resolve territorial disputes in the South China Sea between China and Vietnam. “I’m a very good mediator and a very good arbitrator. I have done plenty of it from both sides. So if I can help you, let me know,” Trump said to President Quang.
Trump’s meeting with Secretary General Trong of the Communist Party of Vietnam was filled with the usual diplomatic remarks. His bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Phuc of Vietnam, however, was more substantial. After vocalizing the standard pleasantries expected from political leaders, Trump dove straight into asserting his dissatisfaction with the trade imbalance he feels exists between the US and Vietnam.
“Right now we have a very substantial trade imbalance with Vietnam — approximately $32 billion, which is a tremendous amount of money,” Trump directed to Prime Minister Phuc.
President Trump, very kindly, however, supplied Vietnam with the solution to fixing the problem at hand: “We would like you to buy your equipment from the United States. We make the best equipment, we make the best military gear and planes and anything you can name. The missiles are in a category that nobody even comes close.”
“We make the greatest missiles in the world, greatest planes in the world, greatest commercial aircraft in the world,” Trump continued. “So we would like Vietnam to buy from us, and we have to get rid of the trade imbalance. We can’t have the trade imbalance. Other than that, I think we’re going to have a fantastic relationship, and I look forward to it for many years to come.”
Later that day, Nov 12, Trump left Vietnam for the Philippines, the final leg of his Asia-Pacific tour, to participate in the Special Gala Celebration Dinner for the 40th anniversary of US-ASEAN relations and participate in bilateral meetings with President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, whose controversial anti-drug campaign Trump has publicly commended.