You can’t keep a good woman down and Helen Clark is no exception. Her new appointment, as co-chair of a review of how the World Health Organisation handled the coronavirus pandemic, will test her formidable political skills.
Sitting with her is Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former Liberian president, who handled the Ebola outbreak in her country six years ago. She is even more formidable than Clark, given her success in Africa.
The appointment is not without risks and challenges. Clark will have to manage both China and the US.
President Donald Trump served notice this week of the US withdrawal from WHO. He brands coronavirus “China virus”. President Xi Jianping has been fierce in defending Beijing’s response.
In effect, Clark will end up being ground between two massive stones, one from Washington DC and the other from Beijing. Will this produce risks for NZ?.
In the US, Clark is well-known as an old leftie, given her links to the various anti-US movements that sprang from the Vietnam war. She was a member of the Labour government which effectively took NZ out of the ANZUS Alliance.
The US declined to support her campaign to become Secretary-General of the United Nations.
Around New York, it was said this was largely because in her job running the UN Development Programme she paid little heed to the US ambassador to the UN. She dealt with presidents and prime ministers only.
The present US administration rates PM Jacinda Ardern. She got on well with President Trump when they met at the UN General Assembly. And Washington knows Clark no longer represents a NZ government. But if the report is anodyne, the reaction may be chill.
On the other side, should the conclusion contain any element of condemnation of China, the mood in Beijing could be sour.
The NZ Government is dancing cautiously around its relations with China, driven largely because of the vast economic importance of the trade relationship. Foreign Minister Winston Peters has been the only minister to question the role of the Chinese government in foreign policy.
If Clark and her co-chair land heavily on China and the US in her findings, probably it would matter more to the former than the latter. Then NZ will discover – as has Australia recently – what happens when you twist the dragon’s tail.