Audrey Young

Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Obama's absence is felt at Apec summit

US President Barack Obama. Photo / AP
US President Barack Obama. Photo / AP

The name of the beer here in Bali is a tad corny, Bali Hai, the haunting tune from the musical South Pacific.

The more appropriate theme song for Apec 2013 being held in Bali would be "Empty chairs at Empty Tables", the mournful melody from Les Miserables.

The absence of US President Barack Obama from the Apec leaders summit leaves a gaping hole, and a lot of disappointment, if not misery.

If is palpable proof that the world still has only one superpower and one superstar leader.

Notions that China or Russia are filling the power vacuum are a joke.

Even Russian leader Vladimir Putin would prefer to parade his prowess in Obama's presence than his absence.

The Bali summit is the second time Indonesia has hosted Apec.

The first time in 1994, it was a vastly differently era.

Today Indonesia is the world's third largest democracy but back then idolatry and dictatorship were the norm under Suharto's three decade rule.

Jim Bolger 's arrival in Bogor near Jakarta in 1994 to represent New Zealand was honoured with towering billboards of him and every other leader.

This time it is more about action slogans, even if it is a mouthful: "Facilitating the Flow of Goods, Devices and Capital in the Asia Pacific Region," was the first big billboard that caught my eye.

The Bali Apec is being held in tropical Nusa Dua, an enclave of five-star international hotels on the beach.

But among the ubiquitous frangipani, flowering oleander and palm trees, the mystical attractions of Hindu-dominated Bali still thrive in the security lockdown.

Locals go through their twice daily routine offerings to their concrete Gods, lifting early morning rush hour from the mundane.

The local paper, the Bali Times, ran a picture of a Hindu priest sprinkling holy water over one of the 11,000 military and police personnel guarding the Apec.

The Bali Times also has a prominent horoscopes section and it could give Mr Obama some inspiration as he battles the Republicans back home over the Federal Budget: "The worst of recent tension and worrying uncertainty is behind you. Don't become so determined to look for drawbacks that you fail to see the hope that is staring you in the face."

The mystical character of Bali, it seems, extends to the criminal sector too. The same Bali Times paper tells of a money changer calling the police after losing $500 to two foreigners, a man and a woman, who hypnotised him. Police were checking CCTV footage.

At the risk of sounding a tad corny, it sounds more like a case of bally-hoo.

- NZ Herald

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