RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
President Trump arrived in Vietnam today for a summit with Asia-Pacific leaders. One of Trump's first actions as president was to withdraw from a 12-nation Pacific trade deal, the TPP. The president told a group of business leaders today the U.S. will continue to be an active partner in the region, with this caveat.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: What we will no longer do is enter into large agreements that tie our hands, surrender our sovereignty and make meaningful enforcement practically impossible.
MARTIN: NPR's Scott Horsley is traveling with the president. He joins us now from Da Nang, Vietnam. Hi, Scott.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Rachel.
MARTIN: What more was the president trying to convey about trade today?
HORSLEY: There were sort of mixed messages in the speech today. It started out kind of sunny and bright. He was celebrating the success that countries like Vietnam have had lifting their people out of poverty. But, you know, this is a president who often sees international economics as sort of a zero-sum game. And this speech took a darker turn when he complained some of that success in other countries has come at the expense of the United States. Trump argued, as he often did during the campaign, that the U.S. has been taken advantage of by other countries, that it's opened up its markets to foreign competition, but those other countries have not reciprocated. Trump also complained the World Trade Organization has failed to crack down on unfair practices and that countries like China have been subsidizing their state-owned enterprises and forcing U.S. companies to share their technology as a price of doing business there.
MARTIN: So this speech was supposed to be a big moment for the president. It was billed as as one of the keynotes of his entire, big Asia tour. Did he deliver on that?
HORSLEY: This speech was advertised as an opportunity for the president to spell out his vision for what the White House calls the Indo-Pacific region. That's a phrase that the globalists in the administration came up with to show that the U.S. still wants to be a player in this area, even though Trump did pull out of the TPP. But, you know, you could almost hear the tug of war between the globalists and the economic nationalists in the White House. And it was as if, halfway through the speech, the nationalists grabbed the speech writing pen and used it to air their grievances. So, you know, for Trump supporters back home, there was some real red meat on trade in this speech. But for people in other countries listening for reassurance that the U.S. still wants to be an active player in the Pacific, not so much.
MARTIN: All right. So where does that leave those other countries?
HORSLEY: Some of the 11 other countries that had signed on to the TPP are hoping to resurrect that trade deal, minus the United States. And then you have China, which was not part of the TPP. But for China, this is a potentially big opening. By stepping back from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and also by challenging other international treaties like the Paris climate accord, Trump has left something of a vacuum in the international community. And Chinese President Xi Jinping is more than happy to fill that vacuum.
HORSLEY: One analyst described this as the first APEC Summit he could remember that China was actually looking forward to. Ordinarily, the United States is sort of in the lead here at the head of the table. This is an opportunity now for China to take that role.
MARTIN: Interesting. NPR's Scott Horsley has been traveling with the president. He's in Vietnam right now. Thanks so much, Scott.
HORSLEY: You're welcome, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.