President Donald Trump headed for home on Tuesday following an extensive tour of Asia that he said had been “tremendously successful” and had put the world on notice that the “rules have changed” for countries that want to trade with the US.
He also teased a “major statement” on trade and the trip later this week at the White House, where he is expected to promote congressional Republicans’ plan to overhaul the nation’s tax code.
As Air Force One rolled down the runway in Manila, Mr Trump told the reporters travelling with him that “it’s been a really great 12 days”. And on trade, he said confidently that US trading partners “will be treating us much differently than before”.
“I think the fruits of our labour are going to be incredible, whether it’s security of our nations, whether it’s security of the world or whether it’s trade,” he said.
Mr Trump, who campaigned for office on a promise to tear up multilateral trade agreements that he said have harmed the US, insisted during the nearly two-week trip that multibillion-dollar deficits which 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,” he tweeted on Tuesday. “The massive TRADE deficits must go down quickly!”
He pressed that point on every stop of his gruelling tour of Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines, blaming his predecessors for yawning trade imbalances and declaring that the US will no longer be taken advantage of under his watch.
“We’ve had a tremendously successful trip,” he told reporters before leaving his third summit of the trip. “Tremendous amounts of work was done on trade.”
Mr Trump said deals worth 300 billion dollars had been reached, a sum he predicted would triple in a short period of time.
“We explained that the United States is open for trade but we want reciprocal trade. We want fair trade for the United States,” he said, adding that the US has been taken advantage of by its trading partners.
The president also sounded a positive note about Vietnam, saying the country had changed direction and was buying 12 billion dollars worth of Boeing aircraft.
He also spoke warmly of the “many good friends” he had made on the trip, including Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte.
On Monday, Mr Trump praised and joked around with Mr Duterte, who has overseen a bloody crackdown on the illegal drugs trade that has featured extrajudicial killings, earning the Filipino leader the condemnation of human rights groups.
Mr Trump did not publicly take Mr Duterte to task for the crackdown, talking instead about their “great relationship”.
The White House later said the two men talked about the Islamic State group, illegal drugs and trade during a private meeting. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said human rights issues were “briefly” discussed. She was contradicted by Mr Duterte’s spokesman, who said there was “no mention” of human rights.
Human rights advocates have been alarmed by Mr Duterte’s war on drugs, saying it has allowed police officers and vigilantes to ignore due process and take justice into their own hands. Government officials estimate that well over 3,000 people, mostly drug users and dealers, have died in the crackdown. Human rights groups believe the total could be closer to 9,000.
Mr Trump was in the Philippines to attend the Association of Southeast Asian Nations conference and the East Asia Summit. He sought during both gatherings to strengthen alliances with Pacific Rim nations over trade and a shared desire for North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons programme.