“We are not going to let the United States be taken advantage of anymore,” he said, speaking shortly after arriving in Vietnam, his penultimate stop on a five-country, 12-day swing through Asia. “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.”
But the president’s more fiery and protectionist tone Friday offered a stark departure from just a day earlier, when on Chinese soil in Beijing, Trump seemed reluctant to press his case as sharply with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
There, Trump lavished praise on Xi, touting their “great chemistry” and saying that he did not blame China — a line he has repeated since — for the trade imbalance that had become a focal point of his aggressive campaign rhetoric.
The president has previously expressed admiration for strongmen leaders, including authoritarian rulers and even dictators, which might explain his reluctance to confront Xi so directly head-on. Trump arrived in China as Xi had just consolidated his power at China’s Communist Party Congress in October.
On Friday in Danang, Trump spoke in a country that is on friendlier terms with the United States, and his remarks seemed at least obliquely aimed at China. Trump expressed concerns about intellectual property, ensuring “fair and equal market access,” product dumping, currency manipulation, predatory industrial policies and freedom of navigation.
When he did mention China by name, it was to rehash his “excellent trip” to the country, where he said he and Xi discussed “China’s unfair trade practices and the enormous trade deficits they have produced with the United States.”
Trump also reiterated his previous line, which he also tweeted, that he does not blame China — or any other nation, for that matter — for a trade imbalance.
“I do not blame China, or any other country, of which there are many, for taking advantage of the United States on trade,” he said. “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.”
Meanwhile, shortly before Trump’s address, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced that Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin will not have a formal sit-down meeting at the summit, putting to rest much speculation on the topic.
“There was never a meeting confirmed, and there will not be one that takes place due to scheduling conflicts on both sides,” she said, speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Vietnam.
But Sanders noted that because the two leaders were going to be in the same place, they might still have a less scripted encounter. “Are they going to bump into each other and say hello? Certainly possible and likely,” she said. “But in terms of a scheduled, formal meeting, there’s not one on the calendar, and we don’t anticipate that there will be one.”
The Kremlin, meanwhile, said that a formal sit-down may still be possible. Dmitry Peskov, Putin's spokesman, said discussions were ongoing, adding that “contradictory information was coming from the American side.”
“They will communicate on the sidelines one way or another,” Peskov told reporters, according to the Interfax news service.
The relationship between Trump and Putin is complex and fraught, in part because of the president’s refusal to definitively acknowledge the conclusion of his intelligence agencies that Russia attempted to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Trump had stoked the impression he would meet with Putin in comments to reporters shortly after leaving Washington for his marathon trip through Asia, though other administration officials had downplayed the likelihood of such a meeting.
On Thursday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that while “it wouldn’t be at all unusual if they ended up with some kind of a pull-aside,” he did not anticipate any official meeting. “The view has been if the two leaders are going to meet, is there something sufficiently substantive to talk about that would warrant a formal meeting.”
Andrew Roth in Moscow contributed to this report.