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Trump: Asia trip tremendously successful

News24 - Wednesday 15th November, 2017

Manila - Wrapping up his extensive tour of Asia, US President Donald Trump on Tuesday 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.

The president, who campaigned on shredding multilateral trade agreements he has deemed unfair, insisted during his travels that multi-billion-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 scheduled to arrive later on 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 side-lines of the annual East Asia Summit of leaders from throughout the Asia-Pacific region, his final summit after attending a gathering of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations 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.

'A great relationship'

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.

The White House later said they discussed the Islamic State group, illegal drugs and trade during the 40-minute meeting.

Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said human rights came up "briefly" in the context of the Philippines' fight against illegal drugs. She did not say if Trump was critical of Duterte's programme.

Her readout appeared to conflict with the Filipino version of the meeting.

Harry Roque, a spokesperson for Duterte, said: "There was no mention of human rights. There was no mention of extra-legal killings. There was only a rather lengthy discussion of the Philippine war on drugs with President Duterte doing most of the explaining."

Despite all that, they later issued a joint statement saying they "underscored that human rights and the dignity of human life are essential, and agreed to continue mainstreaming the human rights agenda in their national programmes".

A 'very fruitful' tour

Duterte's war on drugs has alarmed human rights advocates around the world who say it has allowed police officers and vigilantes to ignore due process and to take justice into their own hands.

Government officials estimate that well over 3 000 people, mostly drug users and dealers, have died in the ongoing crackdown. Human rights groups believe the victim total is far higher, perhaps closer to 9 000.

In Manila for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations conference, and the subsequent East Asia Summit, 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 in 2016, 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 said he would wait until he was back in Washington to elaborate with a "major statement" on those two topics, but hinted at progress while in Manila.

"We've made some very big steps with regard to trade - far bigger than anything you know," Trump told reporters, pointing to business deals forged between US and foreign companies.

Trump also said the trip had been "very fruitful" for the US 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."

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