US President Donald Trump defied his handlers at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) meeting in Vietnam over the weekend and came out with extremely positive comments about Russian President Vladimir Putin despite the fact that the two men met only briefly.
“When will all the haters and fools out there realise that having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing. There [sic] always playing politics - bad for our country. I want to solve North Korea, Syria, Ukraine, terrorism, and Russia can greatly help,” Trump tweeted on November 12, setting of a storm of derision on social media.
At home Trump’s administration is under increasing pressure from the Russian investigation being headed by special investigator Robert Mueller, who has already arrested several of Trump’s close associates for allegedly colluding with a foreign power.
Trump’s White House handlers were trying to keep him away from Putin just in case Trump poured oil on the Mueller fire with inappropriate comments. As it turned out they met and talked three times informally at the at Da Nang summit on November 11 with inevitable consequences.
Putin once again dismissed accusations Moscow meddled in the US election. “Everything about the so-called Russian dossier in the US is a manifestation of continuing domestic political struggle,” he said.
Trump told a press conference with his Vietnamese counterpart Tran Dai Quang on 12 November that the US would benefit from closer ties with Russia in several of the geopolitical hot spot issues it is dealing with, including Syria, North Korea, China and Ukraine.
Trump brought more scorn on himself after he told journalists that Putin denied hacking the US election and he chose to believe Putin over his own intelligence agency reports, although he later qualified his comments.
"I believe he believes that he didn't meddle in 2016 elex but as to whether I believe it or not, I'm with our agencies, especially as currently constituted with their leadership,” Trump tweeted over the weekend. “I believe in our intelligence agencies. I’ve worked with them very strongly… I believe very much in our intelligence agencies.”
US Senator John McCain slated Trump's comments, tweeting that there was “nothing America First about taking the word of KGB colonel [Putin]” over the US intelligence community.
Trump’s comments on other countries were a lot more aggressive, highlighting China particularly for predatory economic policies, accusing it of having “stripped” jobs, factories and industries out of the United States. “We can no longer tolerate these chronic trade abuses and we will not tolerate them,” he said.
Chinese President, Xi Jinping took a much more conciliatory tone, painting himself as a champion of economic openness, globalisation and the fight against climate change in stark contrast to Trump's isolationist and protectionist themes.