Have you noticed that we have very few visits from leaders of major countries to NZ these days? I was thinking about that watching Key give himself ’10 out of 10′ for his trip to China and reading Audrey Young’s piece, which basically asks ‘what was all that in aid of?’ Key’s junkets always seem to be ‘goodwill’ visits with no real goals or diplomatic outcomes.
There’s a charmingly naive belief in some of the reportage that just getting ‘face-time’ with leaders of other countries somehow matters. Maybe it would have 50 years ago. Now, diplomacy is highly professionalised – it progresses by the signing of documents when both countries’ experts perceive it is in their best interests to sign them – not because a leader once had dinner with another one and shared a joke. Successful countries simply don’t operate their trade policies based on personal whims like that – it’s realism, not relationshipism.
Key going along to open a pizzeria that’s using New Zealand ice cream doesn’t advance our trade relationship with China one iota. Nor does Joyce reading from a Chinese translation of Hairy Maclary. The fact that he had to pad out his programme with that kind of fluff reveals the lack of substance.
You don’t see leaders of other countries doing the diplomatic equivalent of popping over for a cup of tea. They go places to sort out issues and seal deals. And they don’t come to New Zealand anymore, because we’ve got nothing substantive to do with them.
New Zealand’s diplomacy, especially under Key is outmoded. And the results are plain. Despite being the ‘dealmaker’ Prime Minister who is committed to free trade, Key has failed to negotiate a single trade deal in his four and a half years. And he managed to do something, its unclear what, to kill the FTA with the Gulf Cooperation Council at the last minute.
What about the business to business links that happen on the periphery of these meetings, you might ask. Frankly, they happen just as well without Key bouncing around in the centre.
Key’s empty record on international relations, a huge number of visits that have had no outcome (or, seemingly, purpose) other than filling his scrapbook, speaks for itself. These junkets are a waste of time and public money.
Which brings me to a final point. A lot of people bought Key’s line that he couldn’t have been behind the leak of the Kitteridge report while he was overseas because the last thing he wanted was distraction from coverage of his wonderful trip. But let’s play out the counterfactual: Key goes to China for a week with nothing really to do. He’s got half a dozen journos with him who, being self-respecting people, aren’t best pleased with him calling them knuckleheads. The coverage of the trip is thin and critical of Key’s empty programme. His PR ops are mocked.
So much better, then, to get the Kitteridge report out then – it means the scandal does its dash while Key isn’t in Parliament and is largely out of answering range. The press gallery is split between the people who can ask him the questions because they’re with him, and the ones who are digging into the issue and have the right questions to ask here in New Zealand, weakening the coverage. And Key gets to frump off from press standups in China complaining that they’re ignoring all the wonderful things he’s achieving because they’re distracted by scandal-mongering.
If you think that the report just happened to be leaked while Key was overseas, you probably also think it’s a coincidence that Key happened to scoot out of the country just before the GCSB Ministerial Warrant was signed. If you believe that, my message to you is the same as my message to New Zealand’s diplomats and leaders abroad – get real.