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A Story From APEC

Extract from speech to public meeting
Frank Cody Lounge Town Hall
Masterton 8 pm
Tues 14 September 1999

A Story From APEC

On Sunday night I attended the APEC leaders dinner and found myself on a table with foreign ministers from the ASEAN region. Naturally I asked them how the conference was going, and in particular about East Timor. Naturally they said favourable things about how New Zealand had organised the conference - they're foreign ministers after all.

But then they went further and gave examples. One said that the informality at this APEC was demonstrated by the fact that dinner guests felt free to get up and wander round. I noticed for example that other foreign ministers came to our table to continue discussion about East Timor.

The foreign ministers said there was a consensus that an international peacekeeping force must go into East Timor. They were also emphatic that such a peacekeeping force must include contributions from South East Asia.

This is a very significant development. The countries of the ASEAN region have been the strongest in holding the doctrine of no interference in fellow ASEAN nations' internal affairs.

I have no doubt that the happy coincidence of the APEC conference - with 21 of the world's nations present including the nations of the ASEAN region - has had a major contribution to this development.

I took the opportunity to ask whether they thought that New Zealand should have approached the subject in a different way. For example, should we have insisted that East Timor be included on the formal agenda of APEC? The foreign ministers made it clear that in their view such a proposal would never have been a starter and indeed might have wrecked the whole conference.

This raises an interesting question - last week in Parliament Helen Clark and her coalition ally Jim Anderton insisted that Jenny Shipley as chair of APEC put East Timor on the formal agenda. Both MPs claimed that unless this was done, the East Timor issue wouldn't be addressed. They poured scorn on Don McKinnon's claims that more progress would be made by quiet diplomacy. They ridiculed the suggestion that an issue like East Timor was better tackled in informal discussions and indeed even questioned that such discussions would occur.

Well I can state, as an eyewitness, that these discussions did occur - at my table on Sunday night.

The question we now must ask is: What does this say about Helen Clark's claim to be a foreign policy expert, and to have the qualities needed to be Prime Minister?

I'm forced to draw one of two conclusions.

Either Helen Clark as Prime Minister would have done exactly what she was suggesting and would have single-handedly sabotaged the APEC conference - and with it any possibility of organising a multi-national peacekeeping force that included the nations of the region - so condemning the East Timorese to a terrible fate.

Or alternatively Helen Clark's suggestions were motivated purely by domestic political considerations and she was more interested in sabotaging APEC as part of her vendetta against Jenny Shipley, and that the advice that she gave she knew was ludicrous.

Either way I believe both Helen Clark and Jim Anderton have demonstrated their lack of fitness to be leading the ship of state.

At least Jim Anderton had the decency not to come on Sunday night, although Mr Anderton, like a lot of the left, is now in a state of total confusion. For months he's been telling us that APEC's a plot to reduce our standard of living - and then he turns round and suddenly says its vitally important that APEC discuss East Timor. Like the protestors, he can't make up his mind whether to tell Bill Clinton and the world leaders to go away, or whether he wants them to stay to resolve East Timor.

I noticed that Helen Clark did attend the leaders' forum so unless she had her eyes closed she too would have witnessed the diplomacy going on right in front of us and the success of Don McKinnon's and Jenny Shipley's strategy.

I invite the media to apply the same critical scrutiny to the foreign policy strategies of the Opposition that have been applied to the Government. Too many people in the media were determined to declare APEC a failure even before it met.

If, as I believe will now happen, there is multi national peacekeeping force sent to East Timor, I hope that the media is big enough to give the Government some credit, and to point out that if we had followed the Opposition's strategy, Indonesia would have been able to go on defying world opinion with impunity.


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