As Reporters Focus on Putin and Xi, Trump Counters That He Has Good Relations With All 20 Leaders He’s Met With in Asia

By Patrick Goodenough | November 12, 2017 | 6:07 PM EST

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull takes a photo with President Trump, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang, at the APEC summit in Da Nang, Vietnam on Saturday, November 11, 2017. (Photo: White House/Flickr)

( – President Trump expressed irritation Saturday that media outlets focus on his good relations with autocratic leaders, declaring that he relates well to all of the leaders he’s been meeting with on his Asia trip.

As Air Force One flew to Hanoi, Trump was asked by the traveling press about his “fairly warm” relationships with the “totalitarian or authoritarian” leaders of China, Russia and the Philippines.

“Do you think you understand them in a certain way or relate to them in a way that other presidents haven’t?” a reporter asked.

Trump did not dispute that he “get[s] along” with such leaders, singling out Chinese President Xi Jinping in particular.

But, he said, “ I think I have a great relationship with every single one of them – every person in that room today,” he added, referring to the 20 other leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) grouping with whom he had met earlier Saturday in central Vietnam.

(The APEC partners are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.)

Trump mentioned by name some of those with whom he said he gets along with well – German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Theresa May, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

“I get along very well with Angela [Merkel]. You people don’t write that. I actually get along really well with Angela.”

Trump then recalled the media kerfuffle following his first meeting with Merkel at the Oval Office last March, when reports said Trump had “refused” to shake the visitor’s hand, declaring it to be a deliberate “snub.”

“You know, they had that handshaking event. I was with her for a long time before that. And somebody shouts out, ‘shake her hand, shake her hand.’ And I didn’t hear them. So by not shaking her hand, they said – ” he stopped, then concluded, “I have a great relationship with her.”

Trump went on to describe his relationships with May, Trudeau and “Emmanuel” [Macron] as “great,” with Mexico’s president as “very good,” and with Abe as “very, very good.”

He said he had always maintained that “one of my strong suits is going to be foreign affairs. And we’re actually getting very good marks having to do with foreign affairs. There’s nobody that I can think of that I don't have a very good relationship with.”

But the reporters wanted to focus on Xi and Putin in particular.

On the Chinese leader, Trump was generous with his praise, calling him “a good man,” a “very smart person” and a “strong” leader.

But he also made it clear that “he’s for China; I’m for USA” and that “we represent two very different countries.”

Trump recalled his earlier – criticized – comment that he blames previous U.S. administrations, not China, for the massive trade imbalance, but also said Xi understands that the U.S. is now going to be “very tough on trade.”

“We’re going to be very tough on trade. This is not going to be like it was in the past. I did tell him that. This is not going to be the old days. This is a whole different thing going on.”

President Trump, center rear, and the leaders of the other 20 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation members, at the APEC summit in Da Nang, Vietnam on Saturday, November 11, 2017. (Photo: APEC)

‘Artificial Democratic hit-job’

On Putin, Trump said he believed a good relationship with Russia was possible and would be a good thing for both countries. But he said an “artificial Democratic hit-job” – the continuing allegations of collusion between Moscow and the Trump camp, which he denies – has gotten in the way.

“And I think it’s a shame that something like that can destroy a very important potential relationship between two countries that are very important countries.”

According to Trump, Putin has said repeatedly he did not “meddle” in the U.S. election campaign.

Asked whether he believed the Russian leader, Trump said “Well look, I can’t stand there and argue with him,” adding he would rather secure Putin’s cooperation in resolving the crises in Syria and Ukraine.

Trump said that every time he meets with Putin, Putin denies election meddling, and added, “I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it.”

Trump said repeatedly that a good relationship with Putin would be good for the U.S., because Russia’s cooperation is needed to resolve the nuclear standoff with North Korea – “our single biggest problem right now” – as well as the costly conflict in Syria and the crisis in Ukraine.

“Reset” button offered by then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva on March 6, 2009. (Photo: State Department)

And he took several opportunities to swipe at former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, his defeated rival in the presidential race, over the Obama administration’s ill-fated “reset” with Russia.

“Hillary tried it, and she failed. Nobody mentions that,” he said. “She did that reset button; it was a joke.”

“Obama tried and he failed,” Trump continued, saying that the Obama administration had neither the “chemistry” nor the “talent” to secure a good working relationship with Moscow.

“Obama did not have the right chemistry with Putin,” he said, “and Hillary was way over her head.”

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow