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Gordon Campbell on the Hillary Clinton visit

Gordon Campbell on the Hillary Clinton visit



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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.

***

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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