Dotcom saga spoils chat with Obama

ANDREA VANCE IN PHNOM PENH
Last updated 05:00 21/11/2012

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The bitter power struggle that no-one wanted to talk about has crept into this week's Asia-Pacific forums: however, it was inevitable the escalating South China Seas dispute would dominate the twin Asian summits.

But if Prime Minister John Key was hoping to escape the Kim Dotcom saga for a few days, he was clean out of luck.

Dotcom's name popped up in a private powwow with United States President Barack Obama. Mr Key gritted his teeth as he was forced to concede to reporters that Dotcom had spoiled his special moment with Mr Obama.

He would much rather have been outlining how he and Mr Obama double-teamed the Trans Pacific Partnership talks.

In a pre-arranged strategy, Mr Key followed Mr Obama's opening remarks by backing his push to get the free-trade pact sewn up as quickly as possible.

Dotcom insists that New Zealand is in the pocket of the US over attempts to extradite him on internet piracy charges. His conspiracy theory is laced with allegations of secret talks and deals done behind the scenes.

Mr Key did nothing to assuage the imaginations of the fantasists yesterday, engaging in a cosy chat with Mr Obama. Other geo-political tensions - the Israel-Palestine conflict - came up but Mr Key did not want to divulge much more.

The US strategic shift towards Asia, and Mr Obama's historic first visits to Myanmar and Cambodia, have been the headline events at the twin Association of South East Asian Nations and East Asia Summit events.

The US is challenging China's hegemony in the Pacific - and both sides are clearly anxious to line up allies.

Mr Key says New Zealand doesn't pick sides - but he's flirting with both. Formal talks with China's Prime Minister Wen Jiabao on Monday night focused on ramping up New Zealand exports and Mr Wen was telling Mr Key what he wanted to hear.

Mr Wen also sounded out New Zealand on the marine dispute. Mr Obama also made an effort to be seen with Mr Key, who returned the favour by talking up the TPP, which excludes China, at every opportunity.

Until now, New Zealand could snuggle up to the Obama Administration without damaging valued links with Beijing. But if relations between China and the US deteriorate, balancing on the fence may prove more tricky.

Mr Key was giving mixed messages as he mingled with power-brokers yesterday. But ultimately, New Zealand will align with Asia, he said.

"It wouldn't be Europe. Geographically, it wouldn't be the United States. It's clear we are part of the Asian region, part of the Asian century."

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- The Dominion Post

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