Key and Abbot race planes to Beijing Apec talks

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott boards his flight for Beijing APEC talks.
Alex Ellinghausen

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott boards his flight for Beijing APEC talks.

A chance meeting between Prime Minister John Key and his Australian counterpart Tony Abbott at Darwin has sparked a "race to Beijing" between the two leaders' planes.

Key's airforce transport was refuelling at Darwin yesterday en route to the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting, which starts in China today, when Abbott's plane landed alongside it.

Dressed in a short sleeved shirt and jeans Abbott strolled across the Tarmac and joined Key in the terminal for a short impromptu meeting.

Then after posing for photos the two toured each other's planes to compare notes.

The conclusion from the New Zealand side was that Abbott's 737, which took off first after a handshake between the leaders on the tarmac, was smaller, slower and less comfortable than Key's airforce 757.

That launched the inevitable informal Anzac test and banter between the flight decks that ended in the Kiwis hauling in Abbott's 15 minute head start about three quarters of the way along the eight hour flight to Beijing.

But not before some tactical flying by the Australians who stationed themselves 4000 feet higher on the same flight path and blocked the Kiwis from gaining height, making them burn more fuel and preventing them overtaking sooner.

The bolt to Beijing was eventually won by the NZ plane by about 20 minutes.

The serious business of Key's at Apec starts today.

A breakfast with business chief executives and youth delegates will be followed by a speech to the chief executives' summit, on the sidelines of the Apec conference, where Key will talk about restoring trust in the global finance sector.

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The highlight of the day is an expected meeting of the leaders of the 12 countries negotiating the Trans-Tasman free trade agreement - a chance for Key to rub shoulders with United States President Barack Obama.

The meeting, confirmed late yesterday, is to be held at the United States Embassy in Beijing. Pushing the meeting to the sidelines of the summit is seen as a nod to the host nation China which is not one of the TPP nations and instead is in the alternative Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

A statement issued by the Apec secretariat, headed by former Reserve Bank governor Alan Bollard, said the meeting would consider a roadmap for achieving a Free Trade Area of the Asia

Pacific (FTAAP) that would build on the other two regional groupings.

Key is also scheduled to hold bilateral talks today with Philippines President Benigno Aquino and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.  

 - Stuff

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