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Trump: North Korea a 'cruel dictatorship' and China a 'rival'

First State of the Union address stresses reciprocal trade relations

U.S. President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress   © Reuters

TOKYO -- U.S. President Donald Trump openly called the North Korean regime a "cruel dictatorship" and China an "economic rival" in his first State of the Union address on Tuesday -- phrases that could raise tensions that are already running high.

"As we strengthen friendships around the world, we are also restoring clarity about our adversaries," said Trump. "No regime has oppressed its own citizens more totally or brutally than the cruel dictatorship in North Korea."

"North Korea's reckless pursuit of nuclear missiles could very soon threaten our homeland," said Trump, stating that the U.S. and its allies were waging a campaign of maximum pressure against the regime to prevent an attack.

Trump reiterated his intention to continue the uncompromising approach. "Past experience has taught us that complacency and concessions only invite aggression and provocation," he said. "I will not repeat the mistakes of the past administrations that got us into this dangerous position."

The president also emphasized the need to modernize and rebuild the country's nuclear arsenal in order to "deter any acts of aggression."

Trump described China as one of the countries that challenges American interests, economy and values, along with Russia, rogue regimes and terrorist groups.

On the economy, the president referred to his policy of reciprocity in trade relationships. "America has also finally turned the page on decades of unfair trade deals that sacrificed our prosperity and shipped away our companies, our jobs and our nation's wealth."

The U.S. "will work to fix bad trade deals and negotiate new ones," he continued.

In reference to what had been accomplished in his first year in office, he noted that "many car companies are now building and expanding plants in the United States -- something we have not seen for decades." He named Chrysler, Toyota and Mazda as major contributors. "For many years, companies and jobs were only leaving us. But now they are coming back," he said.

The speech did not contain any reference to the Trans-Pacific Partnership -- the multilateral trade deal that the U.S. withdrew from shortly after Trump took office. The president recently hinted at a possible return during the annual World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, if the U.S. were welcomed with more favorable terms.

In contrast, he spoke at length about immigration, stating an intention to tighten policies he blamed for poverty and vice in the country.

"It is time to begin moving toward a merit-based immigration system -- one that admits people who are skilled, who want to work, who will contribute to our society, and who will love and respect our country."

Trump also repeated his determination to see through an ambitious infrastructure plan, calling on Congress to produce a bill that generates at least $1.5 trillion for the investment.

Not everyone is convinced the administration can deliver what has been promised. "There is so much rhetorical flourish," said Sheila Smith, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. "It sounds more like he is still campaigning rather than governing."

Trump's speech placed considerable emphasis on unity between Republicans and Democrats -- a sign that he may feel his grandstanding, even as president, will not always be enough to make any real achievements.

"He believes in 'America first' fundamentally," said Robert Dujarric, director of the Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies at Temple University Japan. "But the U.S. establishment realizes the approach is not good for the country. That's why Trump has been able to fully implement his goals."



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