Foreign Minister Winston Peters, despite his Northland isolation, has been working the phones with global counterparts from US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Pacific leaders.
His recognition that NZ has to deal with what it has and the way things are is said to have energised Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade in a way not experienced in recent times.
We might think the Australians have displayed less than the true Anzac spirit and the NZ vox pop doesn’t care much for Donald Trump, but he is President of the United States and MFAT doesn’t deal with what New Zealanders might wish for.
Lambton Quay contacts tell Point of Order the US Administration has been extremely helpful to NZ on several issues including extracting cruise liner passengers who would have been otherwise impossibly stranded, with the White House pitching in to deal with state governors, port authorities, various US agencies and unhelpful mayors. All this has been done under the radar.
In part this reflects US appreciation for what NZ businesses (think Fisher & Paykel Health Care) have done in shipping critically needed products to the US. It also builds on Peters’ principle theme since 2018 of returning the US in the South Pacific as a counter to the spreading influence of China.
Detailed hard work by NZ diplomatic posts has been applied across the world. Whoever thought the Peruvian air force would have readily extracted by helicopter New Zealanders caught in a village with no road access? It begs the question of if asking if they walked in, why could they not walk out?
As with other like-minded nations NZ is treading delicately as the US moves towards the November presidential elections. In most major global crises, a world leader has emerged. Since the end of World War II, this has been the United States.
But President Donald Trump has eschewed that leadership role to pursue a befuddled, error-ridden and fact-challenged rage against the Democrats.
Since former Vice President Joe Biden emerged as the preferred Democrats candidate, Trump has turned his forces against him, arguing he doesn’t have the strength to manage the global crisis. Trump had hoped to win the campaign on the buoyancy of the US economy.
But Covid-19 has killed all the job gains since 2009 and left the US with 22 million unemployed and 40,000 dead – that’s more than twice all the New Zealanders killed in two world wars. Some of the key swing states won by Trump in 2016 have suffered the most from the massive retrenchment in the US economy.
Now the Republicans hope to use China as the scapegoat. This has been somewhat undercut by the Washington Post’s reporting that Americans working for the (now) despised World Health Organisation actually passed on warnings of the virus late last year.
Did Trump receive them?
“No. I didn’t know, have not been told.”
PM Jacinda Ardern’s latest global promotion has come from the US current affairs magazine The Atlantic but she and Peters recognise full well that what works for an island state of 4.8m people surrounded by sea with the closest neighbour 2000 kilometres away is a special case.
Perhaps a bigger challenge now comes with rebuilding the economy then reconstructing NZ’s international trading framework. MFAT’s trade guru Vitalis Vangelis might spend some time reading Keith Sinclair’s biography of Sir Walter Nash, in which he details the battles Nash had with a hard-nosed United Kingdom in 1937-39 on NZ-UK trade in meat and dairy.
It might be useful in dealing with London in the forthcoming FTA negotiations – and serve as a useful primer if the US Special Trade Negotiator Robert Lighthizer opens up on a US-NZ FTA.