An interesting Q&A from Audrey Young with the PM on diplomacy. Some extracts:
Q. Which leader have you got to know a bit better on this trip?
A. Justin Trudeau. I’ve ended up talking to him, for some reason, I don’t know we’ve ended being in these break-out groups and talking to each other. He is extremely friendly and really personable and a thoroughly nice guy. In my heart of hearts I sort of almost didn’t want to strike up an immediate friendship because I was very good friends with [Trudeau’s predecessor] Stephen Harper and feel slightly disloyal. But I have a responsibility as Prime Minister to do my job and also anyway he is just a really nice guy.
Key’s developed good relationships with leaders on the left and right.
Q. What did you make of the Filipino people and why do you think the country hasn’t done better?
A. They are really lovely people and they are incredibly polite so they are very, very nice people and I feel quite tall there. I’m the Sam Whitelock of the Philippines.
Q. What do you think of Malaysia?
A. I like it. On the basis I am never going to be an ambassador so I am not pitching for a job but if they were sending me somewhere, I think as High Commissioner to Malaysia, there’d be a lot worse places to go than Malaysia. The food is great; it’s an interesting place; and I like the climate.
I’ve only ever been to Malaysia for conferences. Would be nice to properly look around one day.
Q. Obama and Turnbull both greatly admire you and it is pretty clear Chinese president Xi Jinping is a fan too. Is that just personally flattering or good for NZ in any way?
Hopefully both. In the end there is no point having stores of political capital unless they can be used for the benefit of the country. That’s where the benefit is. Xi Jinping, I think, but I wouldn’t to overstate things, but I reckon he genuinely does like me. In our bilateral, he was really engaging, really smiley, didn’t use his notes. That is highly unusual for a Chinese leader. He just talked about the issues, how he saw things going.
That is probably the key sign – when you are confident enough to just talk, rather than follow the script.
Obama, I think in a lot of ways we are just easy. A) I’ve been around the whole time he has been around. We speak English. In our system he’d probably be almost right of me. The Democrats are, on our basis, very similar politically to where [National] are. He’d be stronger on climate change, for instance, and maybe the odd issue but generally speaking, pretty right wing, relative to our system. It’s just that the Republicans are very far right.
Cue screams from some commenters here!
I always remember after the G20 [in Brisbane where New Zealand was a guest] I had some intervention [verbal contribution to the issue under discussion] and Cameron texted me and said ‘in all the G20s I’ve been to, that has been the best intervention I’ve heard.’ And Obama came up to me with Cameron afterwards and he said: ‘Ah, it’s a shame you’re not bigger. You’re fun to have around.’ Doesn’t mean they are going to invite me back when they host the G20 but it was kind of flattering.
Our small size can work for us though. We’re not seen as big enough to threaten anyone!
Q. What is the secret to your success at international diplomacy?
A. Have your own style. The one thing that they like is I don’t read out the MFAT notes. I obviously use them to inform the kind of point I’m making and we have a serious point.
I remember one TV series which had two leaders meeting and they agreed to save time, they’d just pass each other their briefing notes 🙂
Q. Are you meeting Merkel at COP21?
A. No, we are going to Berlin afterwards. She invited us back. She had such a great time in New Zealand. She loved New Zealand [when she visited before the Brisbane G20]. She came up to me at the G20 and said she had such a great time and she really loved all the nature stuff. She said so much of her time is spent in meetings inside. The Germans love nature anyway, I reckon as a general characterisation. Her staff said to me she got more coverage in Germany from releasing a kiwi [on Motutapu Is] than what she did at the G20.