The White House announced early Friday before his arrival in Vietnam that President Donald Trump would not meet formally during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, as Trump had said had been expected.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders blamed scheduling conflicts on both sides, but said it was possible the leaders could have a less formal encounter in Da Nang or at a later regional conference in the Philippines.
Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “There have been contradictory signals, and we don’t have full understanding yet,” according to Russian news wires.
But he added: “Both presidents are in town, and their paths will cross one way or another.”
Peskov’s prediction came true quickly, with Trump and Putin shaking hands ahead of the APEC gala dinner on Friday evening and standing next to each other for the group photograph, with leaders attired in traditional Vietnamese clothing.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had told reporters in Beijing on Thursday that there was no reason to schedule a meeting if the U.S. and Russia are unable to make significant progress on issues including Syria and Ukraine.
Both sides have been working to reach agreement on how they hope to resolve Syria’s civil war once the Islamic State group is defeated. The potential understanding comes as an array of forces are near a final defeat of IS, the extremist group that once controlled vast stretches of both Iraq and Syria.
APEC is the first of several summits Trump is scheduled to attend on his first official visit to Asia. It will be a change in pace the president, who has spent much of the week basking in elaborate welcome ceremonies and banquets between meetings with the leaders of Japan, South Korea and China.
Trump pushes bilateral trade
Promising to put “America first” in his trade practices, Trump used a speech in Vietnam Friday to denounce multilateral agreements embraced by the region and deliver what appeared to be a rebuke to China, again railing against trade practices he says have put Americans out of work.
“From this day forward we will compete on a fair and equal basis,” Trump told a gathering of CEOs on the sidelines in Da Nang. “We are not going to let the United States be taken advantage of anymore. I am always going to put America first.
In his speech, Trump told executives that he was happy to enter into bilateral trading agreements with any of the nations in the Indo-Pacific region — but only if they are reciprocal and fair.
“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.
As one of his first acts as president, Trump rejected the far-reaching Pacific Rim trade pact known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, disappointing many nations in the region, including the summit’s host, Vietnam.
Without singling out China by name, Trump argued the U.S. had adhered to World Trade Organization principles, only to be taken advantage of by counties that had ignored the rules and engaged in harmful practices such as product dumping, currency manipulation and government subsidizing of goods.
“In the speech, Trump said he had spoken “openly and directly” with Chinese President Xi Jinping during his visit about “about China’s unfair trade practices and the enormous trade deficits they have produced with the United States.”
Trump said China’s trade surplus, which stood at $ 223 billion for the first 10 months of the year, was unacceptable, and repeated his language from Thursday when he said he did “not blame China” or any other country “for taking advantage of the United States on trade.”
Xi followed Trump to the microphone but in Da Nang did not directly respond to Trump’s claims of trade unfairness toward the U.S.