Goodbye APEC - Has Been Nice Knowing You

Published: Tue 14 Sep 1999 07:53 PM
by Selwyn Manning
The drum of commuter traffic has once again restored Auckland to its gridlocked best. And smiles beam involuntary as the media team clear out of the Aotea Centre for foreign shores.
For the Chilean journalists, their President Eduardo Frei provided travel onboard his presidential aircraft. And they are all currently sipping cocktails on the beach in Tahiti - all thanks to Eduardo before returning to Santiago tomorrow.
And the Malaysian journalists, well, the New Zealand Government informed them they could travel to any destination in the country. It’s on the house fellas, they were told.
So, today it was to “Rotorua! We want to see where the lakes boil,” said a very good friend of Scoop.
By comparison, I forced feelings of dejection aside. His enthusiasm need not be a bubble for this jealous journo to prick.
Funny though how our Government is providing an all expenses paid vacation for foreign journalists, when Scoop couldn’t even get the buggers to purchase one Newsagent subscription. They insisted it be free. BBBtttthhhhhiiit! To you, MFAT.
However, tourism talks, and these foreign guys are the mouths our Beehive boys want to impress. Wonder if Seattle will be as kind during the WTO meetings in November?
Auckland. Cityline buses are running again, and the commuters are back to their evening ritual of staring at me from lightly tinted windows as the rubber whines by.
The sun is back too, warmer than last week. The freesias are in flower and there’s a stir in the approaching equinox sky. Minutes ago, the last of the Huey choppers passed overhead - on their way home to Whenuapai. A clear sign Big Brother is vacating the isthmus.
Speaking of big brother, there have been some gems to relay. Did you hear the one about shortly after Mr Clinton arrived at the Stamford Plaza Hotel? Well, a certain black-four-wheel-drive vehicle [which happened to be snapped by Scoop APEC photographer, Jason Dorday] was parked down an empty side street when a New Zealand Police officer innocently tapped on the black, tinted, window.
Twas a creepy scene.
As the Herald reported; the window slide down two millimetres - just enough to glimpse a sinister helmeted man, with a rather chiselled jaw. “Could the vehicle be moved back a bit?” the kind Kiwi bobby asked. The jaw moved sideways and back, the window slid up, the vehicle remained. So wrote the Herald’s Warren Gamble.
The same vehicle, Scoop reported was seen screaming down toward the Carlton Hotel at 90 kilometres an hour. Talk about effective crowd control - the police had been trying for hours to keep kiwis from wandering sheep-like on to the road.
No one dared yell out: “Remuera Tractor!!!” No one was that silly. The rumour had spread that those spooks were carrying heat. Indeed, it radiated more fear than re-runs of a real-life A-Team Epic.
And then there was the sleazy dude on the security x-ray machine. One poor American journalist of a reasonably youthful age and, how do we put this? a head turner! Unfortunately for her, she kept setting off the bomb alarm. The officer jumped into gear. Arms outstretched, scanner in hand: “What you got in there madam?” he asked with his scanner hovering over a breast.
“Just a little something,” she replied with a grin, much to the testosterone glee of the Kiwi plod officer.
The scene was truly awful. But in true charming style the American Woman outwitted the Kiwi plods and Scoop is pleased to report she passed without revelation nor offence.
But these were mere interruptions. Inside, APEC was in full swing. Labels that the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation alliance was a dying dinosaur were perhaps ill-conceived. I think APEC was more a caterpillar whose purpose has been, economically, to gobble up everything in its path. But then, once faced with a branding of mediocrity, APEC cocooned itself and emerged metamorphosed into a whole new beast.
APEC’s transition may now continue to bring stability and benefit to the Pacific Rim region. But that depends more likely on its foreign relations role than economic development.
The crisis meetings held on East Timor conceived something within APEC which rose larger than mere economics. The good of humanity was discussed. It was this that brought the West and Asean factions of APEC together. And it was the goodwill and intent of a peaceful preoccupation on East Timor which realised a unified APEC last Friday.
The Australian bruisers lead by its foreign minister Alexander Downer, were muzzled. And the insightful Canadian, Lloyd Axworthy, was asked if “he wouldn’t mind” allowing New Zealand’s Don McKinnon to chair the meeting. This made way for Asean nations, or economies as they are so insistent on being called, to join the East Timor crisis meeting.
Much of the manoeuvrings of the following days were born within the echoes of Friday’s Auckland Town Hall meeting.
It brought Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore closer to western diplomacy and the west listened to the wisdom of the Japanese.
Every nation had a part to play. Not in the least New Zealand. As host our role in the Timor crisis was vital. We allowed frank and powerful issues to overshadow APEC’s economic agenda, inspite of early signs of feeling threatened by this. Also, New Zealand’s mild mannered soapy wish-wash political double talk, allowed the straight shooting Americans and the shrewd Japanese and the bold Chinese to engineer consensus.
As Scoop reported, much success is thanks to the Japanese, without it playing a mature hand in Auckland/Jakarta diplomacy little progress would have been managed. As Japan’s Prime Minister said in Auckland last night: “East Timor remains in a very difficult situation. But Japan has a good relationship with Indonesia. And Japan will continue to encourage Indonesia to take measures to bring East Timor back to a state of peace.”
This is the kind of diplomacy the world needed on East Timor. It was Asean-speak for: “We are your friend Habibie, you know we are your friend. Afterall we provide you with $2 billion US in humanitarian aid [60 percent of the annual total]. We do not want to take that away from you, to do so will cause hardship throughout Asia, and only bring retaliatory consequences to all. So allow the international peacekeepers in to help you bring about peace. To do so is not an embarrassment. It is recognising the gesture of a friend. And to do so will prevent Japan from having to withdraw its aid to the people of Indonesia.” So was the message the Japanese issued to Jakarta on the brink of civil war.
And the protest movements. Media often criticised organisers for not providing a huge anti-this and that showcase, all in one bloody big purge.
But I tend to differ. The protest movement’s audience was not for television, not for the print media. It’s purpose was to alert leaders and those advising leaders of the views of the common-people. And to this end the protest movement was successful.
The continuous parade of banners, placards, signs, flags, posters and chants did not let up for four days. The steady stream of groups displayed the diversity of human rights concerns around APEC and certainly the globe. And the tolling of the church bells on the hour every hour throughout Thursday and Friday was a moving reminder for all the leaders who sat inside the Auckland Town Hall to discuss the crisis which has befallen East Timor.
The protests were largely peaceful, they were effective and each person who decided to get off their butts and stand up for their beliefs renewed a hope that this country is not lost to complacency and their is life in the sleeping dog yet.
Congratulations, for inside the hollow rooms of the APEC media centre at Aotea Centre the chants and bells were certainly heard. Even by those who chose to sip wine at Alfred’s Bar.
On East Timor, there is much yet to be done. Obviously urgency is of the essence. But we have got to this stage only because three quarters of the world’s economies were represented at the Auckland Town Hall last Friday. On this account, thank God for APEC. What clearly remains now is a precedence for consensus diplomacy from the nations of the Asia/Pacific region. And this is to be encouraged.
Beyond Timor:
The tri-nation meetings between the USA, Japan and South Korea also laid to waste statements made in isolation on North Korea’s announced ballistic missile testing plan. The USA and Japan clearly brought South Korea around to consider alternatives to table slamming diplomacy. And this allowed the North Korea/USA talks in Berlin to perhaps bring benefit and stability to the North Asian region.
In summary: China too now has an apology from the USA for bombing its embassy in Belgrade. China also has assurances that the USA supports China’s movement into the WTO fold before November. The USA also supports China’s “One Nation” policy. This means China now knows the USA supports its stance in keeping Taiwan and Hong Kong within the People’s Republic fold.
What did the USA get out of it? Well, stability and peace between the two superpowers.
Chinese Taipai was muzzled largely after it attempted to use APEC as a platform to win support toward independence. It returns from Auckland clearer only in realising where the west of APEC leans.
The Russians came and went without too much adieu. Its Prime minister Putin, a quiet unassuming man, managed his task in true ex-spook style: everyone was left questioning. Who, what, when, where, how? The answers were as silent as a shadow. The USA/Russia press conference was an experience to behold. Journalists were parted into columns, processed, ushered past the respective divisions. The Cold War may be over but the suspicion remains. What was said? Who knows.
And Scoop had its successes too. We became the pride of the international press corp. Connie Lawn, White House correspondent “just loves” what we do. The Latin American press shared information in a very helpful symbiotic relationship. The Mexican press gleaned from Scoop our New Zealand political knowledge. The Malaysian journalists, who were waiting beside us to see what Habibie had decided on Saturday night, saw the world news first on Scoop - thanks largely to Wellington based editor Alastair Thompson’s shrewdness. That night Scoop scooped CNN with its own scoop.
And Scoop was the only news agency to speak to Indonesia’s foreign minister Alatas’ aids on Friday night. And via telephone, we awoke Whitehall in London to the situation on Jakarta’s dilemma. Our dialogue and information from Auckland no doubt aided the progress of clarity for all concerned. And Yahoo responded to our scoops by placing Scoop New Zealand on its “full coverage” page as one of its news sources. And so the number of people flocking to the Scoop news site soared. We are now being read all over the globe. Thousands from Japan, the USA, Europe, even the Arab states. And Indonesia and Malaysia figure prominently in our readership.
And Scoop has received an award from a USA based web-news watcher for our political reporting and coverage during APEC.
Thanks to all concerned.
And we continued to report domestic and international breaking news from inside our independently owned media agency - it was seat of your pants stuff. As Connie Lawn said: “You are bringing it out on a wing and a prayer.”
That’s what it is all about.
Now the world’s presidents and prime ministers have left, and Auckland is back to normality.
Traffic again flows slowly to and fro like an eight hour tide.
Auckland can be a dreadful place - ah but it is home. Our home. We look out to the Pacific here, we resemble a miniature San Francisco, Vancouver. A little Sydney. And we believe we represent the kiwi city-dweller, the urbanite, the Pacific Island capital of the world.
This afternoon Queen Street retailers regressed back to their familiar ways, like the “sorry declined” retorts to eftpos hopefuls, and the bored cave-like eyes that relay the message: “If you’re just looking then push off”.
Yes Auckland has returned. APEC though has left a spin which we will not forget until the corporate sleaze of Americas Cup hype woes us like groupies in a Priscilla Queen of the Seas roadshow.
Selwyn Manning, at APEC Auckland 1999 - Out.

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