Hamish Rutherford writes:
Seconds after John Key stepped off the plane from Shanghai to Hong Kong, the third and final stop of his Chinese visit, officials began rolling the red carpet away.
The move was no doubt to minimise the disruption to other passengers rather than a slight on the rest of the delegation, but was symbolic of the presidential nature of the trip.
How much of it has been down to Key, and how much to Kiwi officials based in Wellington and Beijing, cannot be calculated. But in diplomatic terms the trip appears to be flawless, even as storms surround two of Key’s colleagues at home.
New Zealand achieved a trifecta – with a deal to directly trade currency, lofty new trade targets set and Key hosted at a private dinner with President Xi Jinping.
Only a week ago it appeared as though this visit was to deliver a humiliating defence of New Zealand’s food safety standards following last year’s botulism scare, to a country where even many locals refuse to drink the tap water due to contamination fears.
While there was no public acknowledgement that the botulism incident was a false alarm from Key’s host, the Chinese government could hardly have given stronger signals to its businesses of the high regard New Zealand is held. The frequent access to top Chinese leadership and growing rapport between Key and Xi was evidence New Zealand is given disproportionate importance by Beijing relative to our global status.
I’ll blog more on this during the week, but Key is incredibly good at developing not just professional relationships with other leaders, but a strong personal rapport also.
He’s not just done that with countries we share a common heritage with (Anglosphere of Australia, Canada, UK, US) but also President Xi of China, President Santos of Colombia, President Nieto of Mexico, former President Medvedev of Russia, President Sein of Burma etc.
And relationships do matter. They can be more important than almost anything else when it comes to politics (and business).