US president Donald Trump was the unspoken presence at this week's Tripartite Economic Summit with the US-China trade war providing an, at times, uncomfortable backdrop.
Cabinet Minister Shane Jones who ruffles feathers deliberately in the New Zealand business sector, steered carefully through the minefield at the closing luncheon summit between Auckland, Los Angeles and Guangzhou.
"At the moment our country New Zealand has a strong economic connection with China. The statistics speak for themselves," Jones said. "We have a strong historic and legacy relationship with the United States of America — we do wait in vain, however, for a free trade deal with the latter."
Jones had already tipped the audience to the obvious. That in this time of great power conflict and trade wars between the US and China, even having a tripartite cities' gathering in the first place, was "sadly uncommon" but still an "exciting one".
Then to the crunch point: "Our Government, like a lot of small liberal open democracies, finds itself navigating a relationship. However, I tell my political colleagues that inevitably commerce crosses all ethnicities, all sovereignties in the pursuit of mutual profit."
As indeed it does and will do judging from the business connections that were built, and investment opportunities scoped, during this week's summit. The Auckland Economic Development, Events and Tourism Agency (Ateed) timed the summit to coincide with Techweek19 and put the international spotlight on Auckland's dynamic tech sector.
Tripartite 2019 is part of the five-year-old Tripartite Economic Alliance between Auckland and its long-term partner cities, forged to boost economic, trade and investment opportunities between the three cities and deepen Auckland's connections with two of the economic powerhouses in the Asia-Pacific region.
The two-day programme included an innovation showcase and panel discussions, networking events, site visits to local post-production companies, and an event to highlight the region's Māori businesses to the international guests.
There was also an historic trilateral agreement signed at a gala dinner between the Auckland, Los Angeles and Guangzhou city representatives, on Pacific Rim emergency preparedness, that will see the three cities share best practice on how to cope during times of emergency and disaster recovery.
And various MOUs signed included agreements between Chinese and local companies to pursue mutual opportunities ranging from the R&D and promotion of infant formula and nutrition powders; beverage distribution; an e-commerce cross-border logistics project; technology transfer, innovation and high-level staff training; and food labelling to ensure traceability from source to consumer.
At a gala dinner, LA deputy mayor Jeff Gorell was upbeat saying the conversations did not have to end there.
Gorell pulled out statistics to underline the growth opportunities in the Pacific rim nations.
LA was implementing the spirit of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. In a rapidly changing world it was cities that will lead the way. "US cities, particularly the West Coast, could not afford to sit on the sidelines. The optimist potential of this room is boundless," he said.
In other words, forget what happens in Washington DC, the West Coast is driving its own economic future.
It was left to Chinese Ambassador Wu Xi to inject some political realism. Wu praised Guangzhou's role at being at the forefront of China's reform and opening up.
In her inimitable way she put the the elephant on the table.
"Today with protectionism and unilateralism on the rise, the environment for free trade is becoming less certain, less stable."
"Recent moves by some countries to raise barriers to trade are at odds with their country's traditional role in supporting free trade.
"These moves also undermine China's interests, contradict the rules and spirit of free trade and generate risks to the global economy.
"Ultimately they will undermine the interests of themselves too. "
I'm picking Jones has it right when he says the "pursuit of mutual profit" will triumph. The question is when?