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Jessica Mutch McKay: Hipkins taking stardust-free approach in China

Analysis: Chris Hipkins lacks the star power of his predecessor and isn’t exactly dynamic on the world stage, but he seems to be getting the job done in China.

He was sticking tight to his briefing notes in Beijing after meeting President Xi Jinping – one of the most powerful people in the world. But the emergence of more trouble with his ministers back home won’t be doing him any favours.

Hipkins doesn’t have some of the natural diplomacy of Jacinda Ardern or her charisma and that’s a change on these overseas visits. I’m not sure if everyone imagined “Chippy” on the world stage. But here he is.

And his approach appears to be working. I watched President Xi Jinping during the Prime Minister’s welcome remarks and he was smiling and nodding. For someone I usually see on TV looking serious he looked happy and relaxed.

That’s a tick for Hipkins on his first major global foray (if we discount two trips to Australia). Cautious and guarded in his post-meeting media briefings was the way to go.

The setting alone for the meeting was very different to home. The room was vast with huge traditional murals and the leaders sat five metres apart with a grand flower arrangement in between.

The pair have never met before so this 40-minute meeting was about getting to know each other and at least developing a rapport. And, reading between the lines of the Prime Minister’s answers, it seems like Xi Jinping liked the way Hipkins handled the saga when the US President Joe Biden calling the Chinese leader a dictator.

New Zealand took a neutral stance and that seems to have gone down well over here.

There’s form here. I covered Ardern’s visit to China in 2019 when President Xi fired a warning shot saying the two countries need to trust each other. It set the tone for that meeting but it had a very different feel this time.

While that friendly feeling is all very well, it needs to translate into real life benefits. More direct flights from China, announced yesterday, makes a good tangible achievement from this trip. Put simply – our tourism industry is crying out for pre-pandemic levels of Chinese tourists because they spend a lot of money when they’re here.

Back to the meeting with the President itself. The Great Hall of the People is imposing and formidable from the outside and grand and ornate inside. Its floor is covered in huge slabs of pink, green and cream marble and your heels clip if you step off the plush red carpet.

Fun fact: It’s a massive 170,000 square metres of floor space and was built in 10 months. In comparison, the Beehive looks pocket-sized.

But aside from the glamour of global diplomacy and travel, in the back of the Prime Minister’s mind will be the troubles that await him when he returns back home.

In the days leading up to this trip Hipkins was dealing with the Michael Wood saga. Turns out issues with his ministers followed him halfway around the world. In the media briefing yesterday, instead of talking about trade and relations with China he was answering questions on Kiri Allan’s alleged issues in her office.

These trips are pretty gruelling and you can image the frustration the Prime Minister is now feeling at being sucked back into issues back in Wellington. For a few days he can focus on banquets, airline deals and meeting foreign dignitaries. But on top of that the Prime Minister has a familiar distraction emerging of one of his ministers getting into choppy waters… again.

Source : 1News