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November 30, 2000

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Alejandro Reyes APEC '99: Day Six
On the Diplomatic Trail with Thailand's Chuan Leekpai
By ALEJANDRO REYES Auckland


also:
The Official Welcome
Business Meeting
Protests on the Menu
Finally, East Timor


September 15, 1999
Web posted at 7:30 p.m. Hong Kong time, 7:30 a.m. EDT


    THE APEC SUMMIT
APEC '99 by the Numbers

Day Seven
Men - and One Woman - in Black
- Monday, Sept. 13, 1999

Day Six
On the Diplomatic Trail With Thailand's Chuan Leekpai
- Sunday, Sept. 12, 1999

Day Five
Days of Diplomacy
- Saturday, Sept. 11, 1999

Day Four
Even before he arrives, Bill Clinton makes his presence felt
- Friday, Sept. 10, 1999

Day Three
East Timor, Trade Talks, Clinton - and What The Leaders Will Wear
- Thursday, Sept. 9, 1999

Day Two: The Missing Agenda
Between East Timor and impending Sino-U.S. talks, the real business of APEC is being pushed aside
- Wednesday, Sept. 8, 1999

Day One
The hosts spend big to put their best foot forward. But will the Timor situation rain on Auckland's parade?
- Tuesday, Sept. 7, 1999

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APEC-boosters often cite the group's clout as proof of its relevance - the 21 members account for more than half the world economy. Yet in recent meetings - and certainly at this one in Auckland - the economic agenda had seemed less than substantial. What has been APEC's saving grace? Answer: the summitry that is part of every annual gathering. To be sure, unless Bill Clinton is meeting Jiang Zemin, most of the bilaterals and fringe meetings hardly rate a mention in the press. In fact, participants find this behind-the-scenes diplomatic jamboree to be highly valuable. To get a taste of the leader's life, I trailed Thai Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai over the first 24 hours of his stay in Auckland. Chuan's schedule was as punishing as that of any of his 20 other colleagues. Without police escorts for his motorcade and the downtown streets blocked off, the PM would surely have had trouble keeping to his tight timetable. Here are highlights from Chuan's diary:

The prime minister gets a head start when his Air New Zealand commercial flight from Sydney (where he had a three-and-a-half-hour stopover) touches down five minutes early in the late afternoon of Sept. 11. His receiving party, including New Zealand's minister for Maori affairs and Thai embassy officers, is there to greet him when he steps out of the jetway. Looking fresh despite his overnight trip from Bangkok, he is conveyed to a nearby escalator. Before heading down, he stops to chat with Thai state TV reporter Piyakamon Suntudkarn. He has been watching her broadcasts from APEC, he tells her, including an interview she did with Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan, which he described as a good one. While a busload of journalists and photographers went to the airport to meet the Chinese President, only six (including two each from Thai television and the host New Zealand broadcaster) were on hand for Chuan, though a group of Thai correspondents arrived with him on his plane.

The PM retreats to an airline lounge. After a 20-minute rest - while his compact delegation's luggage is hauled into the waiting Ford cars - Chuan and his party are whisked into the city in a convoy led by five police motorcycles. The prime minister's limousine is crimson, a welcome change from the conventional black. At the Singaporean-owned Carlton Hotel, Chuan is escorted to his tenth-floor suite. The rest of the evening is taken up with dinner in a Thai restaurant and briefings with his senior officials and ministers.

The real work begins the next morning, Sept. 12. An "order of the day" summary of events prepared by the Thai delegation is five pages long. First up for Chuan is an 8:15 meeting with Indonesian economy minister Ginandjar Kartasasmita in a room adjacent to the PM's suite. Chuan ranks higher, so it is Ginandjar who calls on him. In any bilateral, one party plays host. Just who does depends on protocol (rank - head of government or head of state? - and length of time in office are two factors considered) and who invites whom. Sometimes, as with U.S.-China summits, the two sides select a neutral venue.

Ginandjar arrives on time. He and Chuan confer, with only an interpreter and Surin, who takes notes, in the room. The main topic is East Timor. Thailand currently holds the chairmanship of the ASEAN standing committee, and Chuan proposes sending a senior minister to Jakarta (it turns out to be Surin who flew to the Indonesian capital from Auckland on Sept. 13) to discuss the situation. Outside, two New Zealand policemen block the front of the door. A Thai Foreign Ministry official waiting in the corridor laments the packed schedule. "Even I cannot follow my boss everywhere," he explains. "Today is the busiest day." He's not the only one struggling to keep up. Chuan's entourage includes officials and advisers, including Surin, Prime Minister's Office minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, and for part of the morning until he catches a flight for Bangkok, Deputy Prime Minister Supachai Panitchpakdi. Also attached to the PM are two New Zealand "liaisons" (government officials assigned to handle any logistical problem) and a few local policemen.

After his 25-minute meeting, Chuan walks back to his room to confer with advisers, while Surin briefs reporters. Half an hour later, the PM boards his car for the nearby Hyatt Regency hotel. The lobby is teeming with delegations - Russians, Vietnamese, Mexicans and Filipinos. To enter the hotel, everybody must go through a metal detector. In a yellow wallpapered lounge on the ground floor, Chuan arrives precisely on time to a friendly greeting by host John Howard, Australia's prime minister. 25 minutes later, Chuan is out. He crosses the bustling lobby and takes refuge in a function room flanked by the Mexican delegation's suite and Russia's. Philippine President Joseph Estrada is meeting counterpart Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico, while Russian PM Vladimir Putin is hosting Vietnam premier Phan Van Khai. With mobile phone ditties sounding constantly, diplomats, junior officials and policemen mingle in the carpeted hallway looking as if they are guests in an impromptu cocktail party. Thank goodness smoking isn't allowed.

In his holding room, Chuan sits in one corner, while oddly about a dozen members of his entourage stay well away. The group discusses the Howard meeting and other issues. Somebody goes for coffee, but it never arrives. The PM says little, preferring to sit pensively and listen to the conversation. His advisers chat and joke, though there are intermittent periods of silence. Once Estrada and his party emerge from "Suite Mexico," the Thais are on the move again. They are next up on Zedillo's list. Half an hour later, Chuan is across town, striding into the Heritage Tower hotel. He has a bilateral on the twelfth floor with Singapore Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, who has just finished with Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa. Then it's back to the Carlton for a call on New Zealand PM Jenny Shipley.

Not yet lunch, and Chuan has already had five appointments and met three prime ministers and one president. He is still smiling, but has little time to relax. Twenty minutes after noon, his motorcade glides to the front portico of the ivy-covered Northern Club. A green-walled dining room in the colonial-era social club for Auckland's elite is the venue for the ASEAN leaders' lunch. (Seven ASEAN members belong to APEC.) Chuan is host. With Surin by his side, he sits in the middle of one side of the square table, facing an oil portrait of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II. Estrada is last to arrive. After a brief photo call, reporters and cameramen are herded out and the wooden doors with cut frosted-glass panels are closed.

After the luncheon, Chuan speeds back to his hotel. Shipley is officially welcoming the leaders in the lobby starting at 2 p.m. He has time to relax in his suite. But at about 2:30, he emerges. After Taiwan's representative Chiang Pin-kung passes down the red carpet, Chuan walks off the elevator and circles around to meet the New Zealand premier in the middle of the atrium lobby. The pair poses for the cameras. Shipley leads the Thai leader back to the lift for the short trip up one floor to the reception room where 15 other leaders are already gathered. Shipley returns to her position to greet four more guests, including U.S. President Bill Clinton. After the rest arrive, the official summit begins.

 

The Official Welcome
APEC I watched New Zealand Prime Minister Jenny Shipley greet her guests from the balcony on the second floor, along a rank of Carlton Hotel staff. Two leaders were clearly the crowd favorites: Mexico's dashing President Ernesto Zedillo and Bill Clinton. Zedillo strode down the red carpet to meet Shipley. While both posed for photographers, Zedillo put his hand on Shipley's back. Shipley reciprocated. Officials and hotel staff watching from the atrium balconies whooped with delight at the apparent closeness of the pair. Gamely Zedillo twirled around, leaned over and kissed his host on both cheeks. Hoots from the crowd. "Someone should tell Burton [Shipley's husband]," one spectator joked.

Clinton arrived late - in his own limousine. Entering the hotel, he stopped to shake hands with a beaming doorman, a gesture noted by the local press (the doorman reports that he has already tucked away the pair of white gloves he was wearing). Journalists also remarked on the short length of the president's trouser cuffs. The spectators in the hotel cheered and applauded as he stood with Shipley. Clinton lifted his head and waved.

New Zealand insisted on incorporating Maori and South Pacific culture into the greeting for the leaders. In the lobby, next to the spot where Shipley met her guests, organizers placed a sculpted wooden totem (with a particularly pronounced phallus). After all the leaders had arrived, they participated in a "powhiri" or traditional Maori welcoming ceremony from the local Auckland "iwi" or tribe, Ngati Whatua. Maori elders led the VIPs into the podium floor, after a welcoming call by tribeswomen. Male and female dancers performed a boisterous "haka", chanting loudly Maori verse that likened the APEC leaders group to an ocean-going canoe that has arrived from a great distance, guided by the stars and borne by the winds and sea currents. This was followed by welcoming speeches - song-like recitations, really - by Maori elders. The welcome ended with the leaders led by Shipley coming forward to "hongi" or press noses with the tribal chiefs. Maori belief has it that air from the nose comes from the innermost part of the body. Lightly touching noses is symbolic of the communion between two people. (When performing a hongi, you aren't supposed to pucker up as Australia's John Howard did to the amusement of New Zealanders.)  

Business Meeting
After rubbing noses with Auckland's Maori chiefs, APEC's elders headed into a hotel function room for their first session to discuss the agenda for their Sept. 13 retreat at the Auckland Museum. That went quickly. Within a half hour, the 21 VIPs moved across the hall to the Carlton ballroom to meet representatives of the APEC Business Advisory Council. ABAC includes three businessmen from each of the member economies. This annual "dialogue" - it is really a tightly scripted encounter - often offers some interesting insights into APEC diplomacy. At this year's 75-minute gathering, there were more spontaneous exchanges than in previous years. Seven leaders, including South Korea's Kim Dae Jung, who dozed off, didn't have much to say.

For his part, Philippine President Joseph Estrada wasn't taking any chances. In case the English-language discussion got too difficult to follow, he had two Board of Investment officials in the Tagalog interpreter booth to help him. Jiang Zemin surprised everyone by showing off his English skills - unusual protocol for a Chinese president. He warned that, while it was good to push ahead with trade and investment liberalization, this had to be accompanied by so-called capacity-building, or the setting up of necessary legislation and regulation. The Sultan of Brunei, next year's APEC chair, also spoke on the same topic. His "intervention" or comment was crafted by Timothy Ong Teck Mong, one of Brunei's ABAC representatives and the panel's incoming chair. Canada's Jean Chrétien came out strongly for the abolition of food subsidies, while U.S. President Bill Clinton spoke of the importance of keeping the information superhighway free of tariffs to allow e-commerce to flourish.

Perhaps the most intriguing comment came from Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa. His topic: the Y2K computer bug. It is important for APEC economies to work together to be ready, he said. For Hong Kong, this was particularly crucial because, for one thing, the city was planning to hold the first horse race of the new millennium. A lot of betting money would be involved so the Hong Kong Jockey Club's computers had to be ready. Earlier, as the meeting got under way, Tung may have inadvertently reinforced the notion that he merely does China's bidding when he turned to help neighbor Jiang with the electronic sound system.

After the meeting, Clinton was spotted chatting for about four minutes with one of Indonesia's ABAC members - James Riady, an old friend from the president's days as Arkansas governor. A former employee of the Riady Family's Lippo Group - John Huang - was embroiled in the illegal campaign donations scandal that tainted Clinton's 1996 re-election bid. There were allegations that money was paid to influence U.S. policy toward Indonesia and China. In the ballroom, Riady appeared to be briefing the U.S. leader on the situation in Indonesia. Could the tycoon have had a message from Jakarta?

 

Protests on the Menu
Ask participants at this year's APEC meeting what they will remember most about Auckland and they may just mention the food. The New Zealanders have received universal praise for the lavishness of the meals served at official functions. Not surprising, considering the hosts put in a lot of effort to select the best of the best of what the country has to offer.

The leaders themselves got a taste of the specially chosen cuisine at a black-tie banquet in the Town Hall. Among the menu items: Akaroa salmon roasted with Gisborne winter truffles; chargrilled loin of Manawatu lamb with lamb juices on puree of golden kumara asparagus tips, fennel and mint oil; and a pavlova tower with plump sundried Central Otago apricots and a chocolate mocha tart. Of course, only New Zealand wines were served.

Leaders' motorcades pulled in on the side of the Town Hall that was closed to the public, while most of the 500 other guests arrived on the street entrance across from rows of noisy protesters behind barriers manned by dozens of police officers. Throughout the week, the Methodist Mission, opposite the Town Hall, has been something of a base for demonstrators. A banner strung over its entrance reads: "APEC = Poverty + Injustice." Those in front of the mission included pro-Tibet and pro-Taiwan independence groups, as well as East Timor activists. Falungong (meditation exercises) practitioners carried out a silent protest to call attention to the detention of many of their members by Chinese authorities.

 

Finally, East Timor
At midnight, Auckland time, word came from Jakarta that Indonesian President B.J. Habibie had reversed his stand and decided to allow a U.N. peacekeeping force into East Timor. The news was welcomed by leaders who had been at the black-tie dinner. Still in his tuxedo, Australian Prime Minister John Howard credited the U.S. and President Bill Clinton for applying the pressure required to convince Indonesia to change its mind. The U.N. Security Council mission to Indonesia had visited East Timor on Sept. 11, accompanied by Defense chief Gen. Wiranto, who expressed shock at the devastation they saw. Now, the diplomacy shifts to New York. Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas is heading to the U.N. headquarters to negotiate the terms for the peacekeeping force and its mandate.


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