President Donald Trump declared in a speech Nov. 10 at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting that he was focused on prioritizing the interests of the U.S.
"I am always going to put America first the same way that I expect all of you in this room to put your countries first," Trump said during his speech to the gathering, which was held in Vietnam, reports USA Today.
The president said he thought significant changes had to be made to the system of free trade.
"In the end," Trump added, "unfair trade undermines us all."
Trump's speech at times sounded like a reprimand as he criticized several countries' economic policies, according to The Guardian. He accused countries of having "stripped" jobs, factories and industries out of the U.S. This was interpreted as being directed at China.
"We can no longer tolerate these chronic trade abuses and we will not tolerate them," Trump added.
Trump's audience was mute and visibly stunned, according to The Guardian's account.
"Despite years of broken promises, we were told that someday soon everybody would behave fairly and responsibly," Trump added. "People in America and throughout the Indo-Pacific region have awaited that day to come but it never has and that is why I am here today."
When Trump visited China on Nov. 9, he struck a more conciliatory tone, saying he did not blame Beijing for taking advantage of the U.S. on trade.
"The current trade imbalance is not acceptable," Trump said in his Vietnam speech on Nov. 10. "The United States will no longer turn a blind eye to violations, cheating or economic aggression. Those days are over."
At one point during the president's remarks, someone in the crowd appeared to challenge his claim that the U.S. has been losing out on trade.
"Funny, they must be from one of the beneficiaries," Trump added. "What country do you come from, sir?"
But Trump also laid some of the blame for America's trade deficit on politicians in the U.S.
"I wish previous administrations in my country saw what was happening and did something about it," added Trump. "They did not, but I will."
Chinese President Xi Jinping also addressed the meeting and delivered a message that contrasted with Trump's.
"Openness brings progress while self-seclusion leaves one behind," he told the assembled politicians. "The road ahead will not be smooth but we will not give up on our dream."