Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Claire Trevett: Key happy to be shortchanged

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, left, and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang exchange Chinese Yuan and New Zealand Dollar banknotes. Photo / AP
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, left, and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang exchange Chinese Yuan and New Zealand Dollar banknotes. Photo / AP

It was one of the few times Prime Minister John Key came out worse off from a currency trade, and the former currency trader didn't look remotely unhappy about it.

Key and China's Premier Li Keqiang celebrated the decision to allow direct trading between the New Zealand dollar and the China renminbi by handing each other a framed bank note - a $20 bill sporting a karearea from Key and a R100 featuring the ubiquitous Mao Zedong from Li.

It was to reflect the current exchange rate - although Key was shortchanged by $1.13.

The reason for Key's happiness at the Great Hall of the People was because what Key had asked for, China had given, making New Zealand only the sixth country to enjoy such a status - and by far the smallest.

Adding to his happy glow in Beijing were Li's warm words of greeting, when he spoke of the number of times he and Key had met, and their "political mutual trust.'' The front page photo of the exchange of bills the next day helped add to his euphoria.

Another feather in his cap was the invitation to dinner from China's Premier Xi Jinping. Key had enjoyed a lunch hosted by Xi at the Bo'ao Forum last year, a few months after Xi took over as President. But it had been, as Key quipped, "a long time between dinners.''

The last such intimate dinner a Chinese President hosted for a New Zealand PM was David Lange on his visit China in 1986, when visits were still few and far between. Adding to the felicity of this was that Lange was born in the Year of the Horse - the same as the current Chinese year.

But Key was in Beijing to tackle the thornier issue of dairy contamination scares. No Government, even Communist China, wants to have to deal with angry mothers. So China is now looking to tighten its import rules as well as regulate its domestic industry to the extent it has put infant milk powder in the same category as hard drugs.

So Key had no intention of denting his efforts by even the smallest glitch or perceived slight. When it comes to official delegations, size is everything. The string of officials and staff attending on Key at the meeting with the Premier was so long, the only one left out was Moonbeam the cat. Key also brought along his trade minister Tim Groser and Food Safety Minister Nikki Kaye to reinforce the Government was taking matters very seriously indeed. Kaye too was on high alert to Chinese suspicions. She took the precaution of wearing golden high heels, an auspicious colour in China.

Even the karearea was not spared. Li inspected his note with some interest, and Key pointed out he had taken extra care to ensure more luck lay ahead.

The serial number on the $20 bill featuring numerous 8s, a lucky number in China, but no 4s, an unlucky number.

- NZ Herald

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