Recalling Davos Swagger, Hun Sen Pontificates on Trump

No matter the tensions that build up between China and the U.S. under President Donald Trump, Cambodia’s new, $100 million Coca-Cola factory will be fine. That was the reassurance given by Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday—just one morsel of geopolitical analysis offered in a wide-ranging speech to graduating university students in Phnom Penh, in which he also recalled his rhetorical victories during a recent overseas jaunt.

Before a crowd of more than 5,000 students and government officials at the Koh Pich Convention Center, Mr. Hun Sen boasted of besting two university rectors from the U.K. and Singapore in a discussion about the South China Sea during last month’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Prime Minister Hun Sen presents a diploma to a university graduate during a ceremony on Thursday on Koh Pich island in Phnom Penh, in a photograph posted to the premier’s Facebook page.

The two academics had spouted inaccuracies about the geography of the sea and who was involved in lodging a complaint to The Hague, Mr. Hun Sen said.

“Then, I said ‘No,’” he recounted, “I could not bear that they were university rectors and yet they said the U.S. and China would start fighting and Asean should be considered a dangerous area.”

Mr. Hun Sen told the crowd that he had lectured the academics that the two superpowers’ intertwined financial interests—including about $1 trillion that the U.S. owes China through government bonds—made conflict implausible.

“Even if Donald Trump wanted it, the U.S. private sector would not agree because they have invested a lot,” Mr. Hun Sen explained.

The rectors eventually shook his hand, he said, showing they had been won over by his insight.

The World Economic Forum gathered leaders of government and industry­—such as Chinese President Xi Jinping and Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg—as well as celebrities, and Mr. Hun Sen used the occasion to try to drum up foreign investment for Cambodia.

Mr. Hun Sen had backed Mr. Trump ahead of the former reality TV star’s shock election win in November, which was driven in part by vows to dismantle free trade deals and return

U.S. firms’ jobs to the country following decades of outsourcing and globalization. In December, Coca-Cola opened a $100 million plant in Phnom Penh.

“It doesn’t matter what Donald Trump has said: I do not believe that he would withdraw the Coca-Cola factory from [Cambodia],” Mr. Hun Sen said at Thursday’s graduation ceremony.

He said that if Mr. Trump required U.S. citizens to only buy cars produced in the U.S., for instance, or banned the import of vehicles from the U.K., Japan or Sweden, then Mr. Trump “should work with North Korean leaders.”

naren@cambodiadaily.com

© 2017, All rights reserved.