Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

On the Hillary Clinton visit

November 5th, 2010


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Prime Minister John Key and Secretary Of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Beehive Theatrette – More images, audio and video

Only diplomats and Jesuits can probably tell the difference between previous US Secretary of State Colin Powell calling New Zealand a ‘very, very, very good friend’, and the “Wellington Declaration” agreement between the two countries signed yesterday by current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully.

Once again, the thesaurus has been ransacked for words and phrases that sound nice, without altering the basic American refusal to call us allies, no matter how many of our troops are killed alongside their forces in Afghanistan. Both Clinton and Prime Minister John Key were happy to say the relationship was in better shape than it had been for 25 years. What, even better than when we were very, very, very good friends? There seem to be infinite gradations possible between such good friends, while still stopping short of a consummated alliance. Still, I suppose the Clintons are the experts when it comes to the definitions of not (quite) having sex.

Be that as it may, things are certainly looking up for the Americans who – judging by our Defence White Paper released earlier this week – now have a Pacific friend firmly back in “ All the way with LBJ” mode, without the Americans having to give us back anything substantive in return. Military exchanges and co-operation will continue, and maybe even increase? Still, my wildly beating heart. Yet even under the “Wellington Declaration” our capacity to participate in joint military exercises can still be vetoed by the US President on a case by case basis. Its their party – OK? – and we’ll just have to put on our best clothes and buy a nice present before we find out whether we’re invited.

In other words, the Wellington Declaration actually codifies the distance that remains between us – and hides that cold reality beneath fulsomely warm words and positive body language. By such means, Washington keeps New Zealand in the tent for its failing Afghanistan policy – look for Key to extend our SAS commitment next year – and if our commitment should ever waver, the promise of progress on a trade deal can always be allowed to peep back into view. Perhaps a bilateral deal, perhaps membership of a Trans-Pacific Partnership. In reality, progress on trade deals by the Obama administration is something visible now only through the Hubble Telescope and that prospect is only likely to recede further, given the atavistic “America First” mood that currently dominates the US political landscape.

The body language in the Beehive theatrette was certainly something to behold. There is something about National Party politicians in the presence of power – think of Jim Bolger taking pictures of his fellow participants at APEC. It is like watching pack behaviour in the presence of the Really Big Dog. Long before Key muffed his final lines and called his guest “ President Clinton” one had missed the gravitas of Helen Clark who – whatever her other faults – could promote New Zealand’s national interest on the world stage without causing New Zealand onlookers to feel embarrassed. The sense of starstruck excitement in Key and McCully (who visibly inflates in such situations) extended to what was politely not being said, as much as to what was being celebrated on stage. Things are better between us and the Americans than they’ve been for the past 25 years ? This at a time when the weak US currency is hammering our exporters?

Similarly, the mirage of the Trans Pacific Partnership was wheeled out once again, even if only to get a ‘not my department’ final response from Clinton, on the meaningful detail. Yet no question was raised yesterday – not even by the Bloomberg business wire reporter, who chose to ask a question about the Middle East peace talks instead – about the Chinese refusal to realistically revalue their currency, in the face of the Obama administration’s seeming impotence to do anything about it. The overt Chinese subsidisation of their currency is having massive impacts right here, right now on everyone else’s exports in the Asia-Pacific. So far, only Japan has tried to do anything about it.

Given this backdrop, the most realistic event at the entire, well orchestrated press conference – two pre-selected questions from the NZ media, two from the media caravan traveling with Clinton – was the attempt by perennial press gallery outsider Nick Wang to crash the proceedings with a non-scripted question of his own about China. Everyone present seemed to regard that as very bad form. Yet China was the elephant in the room in both defence and trade terms. Perhaps the hope is that if we continue to pretend that the only relationship in the Pacific that matters to us is the one with the United States, China will just go away.

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GST Watch.

Over at Red Alert, Labour MP Stuart Nash is collecting examples of firms using the rise in GST as an excuse to push up prices in general.

Good project. Here’s an example. Wellington Public Library has just announced in a flier that as from November 1st and “due to the increase in GST, we have reviewed our fees and charges. Overdue prices for Adult books and Children and Young Adult DVDs, will change.“

Will they what. The overdues fine for adult books (that’s books lent to adults, not XXX material) will rise from 60 cents to 80 cents a day. The overdues on Children and YA DVDs will go up from 50 cents to 80 cents a day. So in the wake of a 2.5% GST increase, fines to adults for overdue books are going up by 33%, and fines levied on kids for not getting their DVDs back on time are going up by 60%. Why? Because they can.

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    1. 3 Responses to “On the Hillary Clinton visit”

    2. By peterlepaysan on Nov 5, 2010 | Reply

      This is all about China, and Islam.

    3. By Bruce Livingstone on Nov 6, 2010 | Reply

      Hillary may not be qualified to talk about trade but the 1987 New Zealand Military Preference Suspension Act is well within her purview. Very very very good friends are still not allies yet she seems to want us to act in a de facto role, albeit subject to presidential whim.

    4. By Robert Miles on Nov 9, 2010 | Reply

      I agree the Wellington decleration was really almost a final shutting of the door after 25 years in which the NZ foreign service and politicians having beein given the shock treatment of the Anzus breach, failed to pick up any clues or learn anything. As Australian business leaders say New Zealanders use the same words and rhetoric but it means something entirely different to them and they understand nothing.
      Even in recent years under Clark or Key , New Zealand has done little for the US. Our contribution in Afghanistan is minimal and token. We have refused to send combat troops to fight in either Iraq or Afghanistan. Every American general of note and also Gates has pointed out that the caveats on deploying NZ and most nations Nato troops makes them useless and that there is little value in the work our reconstruction troops. A couple of hundred regular force troops to actually fight alongside US and Australia troops in Afghanistan would be the minimun of US.
      The NZ foreign service has never since the start of corner and mcIntosh involvement in the mid l950s had any real understanding of US and UK military polcies of any symapthy. The disaster of Suez, Phipps withdrawal of the Royalist and Corners relentless ignorant interference convinced the British military and Mountbatten by l960 after they had failed to get rid of Phipps that NZ policians and foreign affairs could never be told any truth about defence and they would have to be controlled and used in other ways. The Americans reached a similar conclusion by the late l960s quite possibly due to mcNamaras eventual failure to convince Muldoon of reality and the the total opposition of some cabinet ministers to deploy the Canberra bombers and Leander frigates to bombard the Vietnamese. There were no logistics difficulties, australian derivatives of the british based Leanders and destroyers with thesame gunnery were extensively used to hit Vietnamese targets and the Australian canberras older and less well equipped than the RNZAF did great damage and the US Martin versioin of the Canberra hit harder than the Skyhawks.
      In National cabinet the ex Army brigaiders Mcintrye and Thompson reflected old fashioned army views as did Denis McLean our later ambassador to Washington . To the USA the the NZ military was the Orions and Leanders and the professional officer staff of those services and to a degree the strike force. To the American brass we didn’t even have an army.
      To the United States at the time of the Anzus breach, Our Leanders and Orions were still of equivalent standard to the second line forces of australia, Canada and the Us and Anzus was a nuclear war fighting alliance. To them the comments of Lange that Anzus wasn’t nuclear or a military obligation and nuclear ships didn’t need to visit was incomprehensible and Palmers efforts even more unbeleivable. It is a documented fact that the US strike carriers that visiited NZ in l964 and 1967 the enterprise and america were carrying l00-200 nuclear bombs and we know at the time britains Falkland fleet sailed the Invincible and the major Type 22 escorts and the Shefield were nuclear armed. All USN aircraft carriers were nuclear armed by the 1956 and many escorts from the l960s to the l980s there was no other way of stopping nuclear submarines until the cold war petered out and really fast torpedoes were developed. Against most nuclear submariens our Orions and Leanders would have needed nuclear weapons to be effective.

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