John Armstrong: Chorus of disapproval from Clark's allies

By John Armstrong

It was the case of the mouse that roared and the mouse that squeaked.

When the Prime Minister moved her motion in Parliament yesterday calling on Chinese authorities to react "carefully and proportionately" to the demonstrations in Tibet, she knew whatever she said would not be enough to satisfy the Greens when it came to criticising Beijing's crackdown on dissent.

"Are we now the mouse that only squeaks?" asked Keith Locke in response. Wearing a T-shirt displaying the Tibetan flag over the top of his normal shirt and tie, the Green MP was definitely not making a fashion statement, just a political one.

"This is not a time for wishy-washy words and diplomatic speak."

It certainly was not as far as United Future was concerned. What the Prime Minister would not have bargained on was one of Parliament's mouse-sized parties and supposed Labour ally being even more ratty about NZ's stance than the Greens.

With leader Peter Dunne in Auckland, it fell on United Future's other MP, Judy Turner, to speak to Helen Clark's motion.

Even allowing for the fact that the mild-mannered, good-humoured Turner is someone who finds it hard to say boo to a goose, the sarcasm in her prepared statement dripped vividly with the intention of striking pangs in the Labour Party's conscience.

The Tibetan demonstrations could not have come at a worse time for Labour with the Prime Minister heading for Beijing next month to sign the breakthrough free trade agreement with China.

Turner suggested that pending event was the reason why the Government's initial response to the crackdown by the Chinese was to stall.

"Hopefully it will blow over _ they are thinking _ maybe if the People's Liberation Army can crush the dissension quickly enough we might be able to sneak over to Beijing, sign on the dotted line and still gain the plaudits for being the first country to sign a bilateral free trade agreement with China."

Ouch. But Turner had barely started.

The least she had expected was that the Prime Minister would call in the Chinese Ambassador and give him a formal dressing-down. "Or are we so subservient in this relationship that we cannot even do that?" Ouch, ouch.

If this deluge was hitting its target, the Prime Minister, crouched over her papers, was trying not to show it. Across the chamber, however, Murray McCully, National's foreign affairs spokesman, could not contain his delight at watching Labour squirm under the impact of this caustic tongue-lashing from one of the Government's support parties.

But Turner wasn't finished. Earlier, Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples had pondered whether it was worth selling New Zealand's soul for a supposedly lucrative trade deal.

Turner had details of the price of that deal. The cost of buying New Zealand's moral conscience was about $2 billion in GDP over 20 years.

"Maybe now we are truly seeing which side of the fence this Labour Government sits on," she declared, adding the Government had abdicated responsibility.

No doubt there will be muttering in the Beehive that United Future's stance has a lot to do with Dunne's strong advocacy of Taiwan being treated as a nation state in its own right, rather than some appendage of mainland China.

And when it comes to responsibility, the Government would argue it is essential to maintain the best possible relationship with the regional superpower of the century.

Winding up the debate, the Prime Minister said as much, referring to "intemperate comments" but not mentioning United Future by name.

The reality is mice can roar. Governments have to be more circumspect. That was amply demonstrated by National, effectively weighing pretty much in behind Labour's position.

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