PM Praises Trump’s TPP Withdrawal, Slams Protectionism

Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday praised U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), but said the president’s protectionist policies were doomed to fail.

“I can honestly say that I want the TPP to die,” Mr. Hun Sen said on Monday during the opening ceremony of the World Trade Organization’s Fifth Day China Round Table in Siem Reap City.

Prime Minister Hun Sen speaks at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January in a photograph posted to his Facebook page.

The U.S. and 11 allies, including Malaysia, Vietnam and Singapore, signed the TPP last year, with proponents like former U.S. President Barack Obama saying the agreement would boost labor and environmental standards in the largest regional trade deal on the books.

But Mr. Trump withdrew the U.S. from the deal in January as part of his “America First” economic approach, throwing the agreement into jeopardy in what economists said was a boon for China. Other countries involved in the deal have since talked of forging ahead without the U.S.

Mr. Hun Sen said on Monday he wanted the bill to fail because it would splinter countries like Cambodia that were excluded from the deal from regional neighbors.

“The reason that I want it to die is because it has the potential to break up Asean,” he said. “Asean has 10 countries. Why has the deal only taken four countries?”

Recalling his appearance on a panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in January, the prime minister said he had predicted that Mr. Trump’s protectionist policies would fail, giving the example of a potential policy that would require all cars sold in the U.S. to be manufactured there.

“If the American people do not want vehicles produced by the U.S. [carmakers], what will happen?” he said, adding that links with China were particularly crucial to the U.S. in spite of Mr. Trump’s anti-China rhetoric. “Donald Trump campaigned like that, but goods will still go back and forth.”

“As I understand it, 15,000 Chinese people go to America per day and 15,000 American people go to China,” he continued. “So how can they have a dispute with each other? They can’t.”

Miguel Chanco, lead regional analyst for the Economist Intelligence Unit, said the comments reflected Mr. Hun Sen’s drift toward Beijing, whose proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) included all members of Asean.

“His comments highlight, yet again, how Cambodia continues to happily toe China’s line in the region,” Mr. Chanco wrote in an email. “The death of the TPP simply gives the RCEP more impetus, which would strengthen ASEAN as a regional economic bloc if it comes to fruition.”

(Additional reporting by Ben Paviour)

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