Donald Trump skips East Asia Summit on last day of five-nation trip, sends Rex Tillerson instead
US president ends nearly two-week trip through Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines
US President Donald Trump left the Philippines on Tuesday without attending an annual East Asia Summit, due to delays in the schedule of the programme of meetings.
Trump told reporters on Air Force One that he delivered his prepared remarks during a lunch with the leaders instead.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would attend Tuesday’s summit in his place, a senior White House official said, adding the event was running too late.
The meetings in Manila were around 90 minutes late.
Wrapping up his extensive tour of Asia, Trump hailed “tremendous amounts of work” on trade and said nations around the globe have been put on notice that the US will demand improved trading conditions.
Trump told reporters in Manila that the “fruits of our labour are going to be incredible”.
He was closing a nearly two-week trip through Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines that included one-on-one meetings with the leaders of those nations during which he stressed trade.
Watch: Duterte serenades Trump with love song
The president, who campaigned on shredding multilateral trade agreements he has deemed unfair, insisted during his travels that multibillion-dollar deficits that favour US trading partners will be reduced to zero, and that trade overall must be fair and mutually beneficial.
“The United States has to be treated fairly and in a reciprocal fashion,” Trump tweeted before heading back to Washington, where he is expected to arrive later Tuesday.
“The massive TRADE deficits must go down quickly!”
Trump told reporters before departing an international summit: “We’ve had a tremendously successful trip. Tremendous amounts of work was done on trade.”
The president spoke along the sidelines of the annual East Asia Summit of leaders from throughout the Asia-Pacific region, what was meant to be his final summit after attending a gathering of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) on Monday.
Trump said he planned to make a “major statement” about his trip from the White House later this week, and spoke of the “many good friends” he made during the trip.
Among Trump’s newest friends in the region is Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, whom Trump repeatedly praised and joked around with on Monday. Duterte has overseen a bloody crackdown on domestic drug dealing that has featured extrajudicial killings, earning him scorn from human rights advocates.
Trump did not publicly take Duterte to task for the crackdown. Instead, Trump said he and Duterte have “had a great relationship” and avoided questions about whether he’d raise human rights concerns with the Filipino leader during a private meeting.
In Manila for the Asean conference, Trump looked to strengthen ties with Pacific Rim allies, aiming to strike one-on-one trade deals rather than multinational trade agreements, and increase pressure on North Korea to abandon its nuclear programme.
He met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and highlighted their two nations’ “deeper and more comprehensive” ties, looking to strengthen a relationship that is vital to the US vision of an Indo-Pacific region that attempts to de-emphasise China’s influence.
He jointly met with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, with whom he had a contentious phone call last winter, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who hosted the president in Tokyo earlier in the trip. Trump raved about his accomplishments on his five-nation journey, particularly on trade and on North Korea, which the White House has suggested may be designated a state sponsor of terror.
Trump also said the trip had been “very fruitful” for the United States and pointed to the warm welcomes he had received in capitals like Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing.
“It was red carpet like nobody, I think, has probably ever received,” Trump said. “And that really is a sign of respect, perhaps for me a little, but really for our country. And I’m really proud of that.”
Reuters, Associated Press