US Secretary of State defends Trump on trade, climate change
Short, but not so sweet. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was in New Zealand for just a few hours on Tuesday, and it was far from plain sailing.
Tillerson got a hostile reception from the locals, a reminder of our disagreements on issues like climate change from Prime Minister Bill English, and had to defend the US presence commitment to the region in the wake of isolationist policies enacted by the Trump administration.
But Tillerson's message for Kiwis was clear - the US is not retreating. On climate change, and trade, Tillerson defended the Trump administration's record.
"I don't think anyone should interpret the US has stepped away from these issues, or is seeking to isolate itself. Indeed one of the reasons I'm in the region, one of the reasons Vice President [Mike] Pence has already been in the region, [defence secretary Jim] Mattis has been in the region, is to reaffirm to everyone that the US views this region in the world as extremely important to our national security interests and our own economic and prosperity interests. And I think you can expect ...to see an elevated level of engagement to that which you saw in the past eight years.
Trump is deeply unpopular in New Zealand - a Massey/Stuff survey of 40,000 Kiwis shows just 15.2 per cent would have voted for him over his opponents. Just 15.6 per cent looked to the US for a leadership role in the region.
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Before meeting with Tillerson, English conceded US president Donald Trump's deep unpopularity made it more difficult for the US to exercise leadership. But disagreement with the US was nothing new, he said. Nor was it unusual for us not to like their presidents.
"There's a lot of disagreement in New Zealand with some of the administration's policies but there's always going to be shorter term tension around politics.
"New Zealand have for a long time not liked various presidents of the US and disagreed with their views about our anti-nuke policies for 30 years. But that doesn't prevent us confirming our shared values and cooperating with them on security and defence."
When he landed, Tillerson was met by Foreign Affairs minister Gerry Brownlee before being whisked from Wellington airport in a motorcade into the city and greeted at Premier House with a powhiri.
Tillerson started his meeting with English by acknowledging relationship the upcoming 75 year anniversary of the landing of troops in World War II - one of the first times the two countries troops fought together.
The pair discussed recent positive gains made in the coalition fight against Isis and he praised New Zealand's ongoing involvement in the fight. "We're very thankful for the contribution made by New Zealand troops in that fight."
English confirmed last week New Zealand had received a request to boost its personnel in Afghanistan.
The Government was considering the request, but English had indicated an announcement was unlikely to be made on Tuesday.
In terms of New Zealand's commitment to global security, Tillerson said both countries were in "one mind" over the military actions in the South China Sea. He alluded to terrorist attacks in London, saying such incidences were the state of play now.
"We have to win this fight on the battlefield, but winning on the battlefield will not end this fight." Only the Muslim faith could handle the ideological side of the fight, and countries like the US, NZ and wider Europe had to support them in that.
Tillerson also issued a staunch defence of the US position on climate change, and rejected suggestions the unpredictability of Trump's presidency created uncertainty.
"The president ran his campaign on the intention to withdraw from the TPP and Paris climate accord," Tillerson said.
"Having said that on both issues the president has every intention of being directly engaged in trade relationships and indeed the process of bilateral (trade agreements) is already underway in some parts of the region and that will continue in the days and years ahead. On Paris I think the president again felt it was simply not an agreement that served the American people well."
But the US was not walking away from climate change measures.
"The US has an extraordinary record of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Possibly unparalleled by anyone else. Our greenhouse gas emissions are at levels last seen in the 1990s. That's been done with 50 million more energy consumers than we had in the 1990s with an economy that's twice as large. So we're very proud of the record with (reducing emissions). That's been done without Paris climate accord. It's been done without heavy handed regulation. It's been (dealt with ) by technology, innovation, entrepreneurship. We have every expectation that record of performance will continue. There is no reason for it to stop."
Speaking after their meeting, English said the meeting went well and he was reassured both by Tillerson's presence here so early in the life of the Trump administration, and his commitment to the region.
New Zealand wanted the US to continue its engagement in the Asia Pacific because it underpinned the region's economic success and also its stability in defence and security arrangements at a time when things were "getting a bit tense".
CLIMATE CHANGE PROTEST
Greenpeace protesters scaled a crane opposite Parliament earlier in the day in protest against US climate change moves.
The protesters climbed the crane at the Bowen Campus redevelopment in Wellington on the site of the former Broadcasting House on Bowen St on Tuesday morning.
A Greenpeace spokeswoman confirmed it was the group behind the action and Greenpeace climate campaigner Kate Simcock said as well as protesting the US pulling out of the Paris agreement, the crane climb was also sending a message to English.
"We want Bill English to show real leadership in climate policy."
In the days since Trump pulled out of the agreement other leaders - mostly European - had strengthened their resolve to reduce climate change. English needed to follow that lead, she said.
The banner read: "Climate denial, huuge mistake! RESIST." - inspired by one outside the White House following Trump's inauguration which simply read "resist".
OUR 'BIGGEST EXISTENTIAL CRISIS'
Labour leader Andrew Little said he would be making climate change a priority in his talks with Tillerson.
"The biggest moral challenge, in fact existential challenge, the world faces right now is climate change.
"We have to reduce carbon emissions and it's something the every country has to be engaged in. Up until last Thursday or Friday only Syria and Nicaragua were not part of the international agreement," Little said.
"Now the US - arguably one of the most powerful countries and one of the biggest polluters is not in there.
"And although a lot, as [New York mayor] Michael Bloomberg has said, will happen at the state and municipal level, the reality is not having the US Government represented in the Paris Accord is a step backwards for the rest of the world."
Little acknowledged Tillerson had already "shown leadership" on climate change, when he headed Exxon Mobil, and was supportive of the agreement.
"He's got to represent his administration and his President, but I think Donald Trump's administration has to hear, from the rest of the world, about how people feel about the actions that the US is taking on this very important issue."
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