There is historic symmetry that it's a Labour Prime Minister who has decisively positioned New Zealand with Washington as the Great Game between the US and China unfolds, most especially across the Pacific.
It was the great Labour war leader, Peter Fraser, who forged the military alliance with the US after the fall of Singapore in 1942, which later led to Anzus in 1951.
Four decades later, it was another Labour Prime Minister, the brilliant but flawed David Lange, who broke the same alliance.
Just two years short of the 40th anniversary of Lange's election, Jacinda Ardern is the third Labour Prime Minister to be fated to have to choose sides in a Cold War. The symmetry between her and Fraser was noted by California Governor Gavin Newsom when he met Ardern in San Francisco last week.
If some Labour supporters are unsettled with how firmly Ardern has positioned New Zealand with Washington, some National supporters were similarly startled when party doyen John Key went on TV3's AM show on Monday and declared Beijing would be in the South Pacific "forever" and argued New Zealand should partner with them.
Fraser, Lange and Ardern's historic moves were more forced on them than planned.
Fraser spent 1917 in jail for sedition, after criticising William Massey's introduction of conscription, before introducing it himself in 1940.
Lange never intended his anti-nuclear theatrics to cause our suspension from Anzus, but the mishandling of our informal invitation and the US's formal request for the USS Buchanan to visit New Zealand in 1985 meant he bumbled into it.
Ardern has always been more of an Americophile, with her Mormon background and semester spent at Arizona State University in 2001. Those present in their meetings say she even managed to build a professional rapport with former President Donald Trump.
Yet Ardern's earliest political experience was as a staffer for Helen Clark and Phil Goff when they were working towards the free-trade agreement with China, when the multilateral rules-based system was still operating adequately, and before Xi Jinping became President of China. Ardern became Prime Minister before Xi transformed himself into president-for-life and when Russia launching a full-scale invasion against a European state remained unthinkable.
The Prime Minister can never have expected it would fall to her to choose between Washington and Beijing, but choose she has, as clearly understood by the great powers. If Ardern's planned visit to China proceeds this year, it will, at best, be awkward.
Despite Key's insouciance, keeping less friendly great powers out of the South Pacific has always been one of New Zealand's major foreign policy goals. The United Tribes of New Zealand's communications with the British leading to the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi were partly about limiting French and American influence in Aotearoa. Fraser's alliance with the US and then Anzus were about keeping out Japan and Chinese and Russian communists.
In its 2021 Defence Assessment, the Ministry of Defence identified "the establishment of a military base or dual-use facility in the Pacific by a state that does not share New Zealand's values and security interests" to be the first of the most threatening developments to New Zealand's defence and security interests.
That is code for China and only the most naive observers could misunderstand the increasingly less long-term objectives behind its activity in the South Pacific, including the current 10-day jaunt through the region by Foreign Minister Wang Yi. Great-power foreign ministers don't visit island micro-states out of curiosity or carry gifts borne with altruism, but because they have strategic intent.
ACT's foreign affairs spokesperson, Brooke van Velden, put it best, when she asked Parliament of Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta on Tuesday, "Why is she still here and not visiting the Pacific?" Van Velden received no useful answer, although Ardern is set to announce a no-expenses-spared visit to New Zealand by new Samoan Prime Minister, Fiame Naomi Mata'afa, this month. Similar invitations should be extended to other Pacific leaders as soon as possible.
But van Velden is right that Mahuta should seldom be in New Zealand now that borders have reopened. Mahuta's background and connections make her perhaps the perfect New Zealand foreign minister to get on a plane and better Wang's Pacific swing.
So too should the Prime Minister plan a major tour of South Pacific capitals. Even her harshest critics know her interpersonal skills are unmatched. If anyone can trump Wang's goodwill tour it is Ardern — and Finance Minister Grant Robertson, a former diplomat, surely also appreciates cash is needed to secure New Zealand's defence and security interests in the Pacific.
Looking ahead, Ardern has promised a Cabinet reshuffle before the end of the year. That would be routine in any government, but the polls demand she refresh her team.
Mahuta needs urgently to become a full-time foreign minister and is, in any case, perhaps the worst possible person to sell the Government's Three Waters proposals. That job will presumably fall to Robertson, because of his political skills and that Three Waters ultimately falls under his job as Infrastructure Minister.
Kiri Allen would be a potential replacement as Local Government Minister, but without Three Waters.
Elsewhere in the Cabinet, Police Minister Poto Williams has mature ideas about modern policing but Ardern will need a more traditional law and order conservative to front the portfolio in election year.
Kieran McAnulty could fulfil that role. Next in line for elevation, the Wairarapa MP clearly identifies with what remains of Labour's non-woke, provincial working-class bloke constituency.
With Covid now just one of several winter viruses putting the elderly and others at risk, expect Chris Hipkins' Covid-19 Response job to go back to ordinary health ministers Andrew Little, Peeni Henare and — especially — Ayesha Verrall.
Little has an enormous job ahead with his vision of centralising the health system. After his first jab at Pharmac this week, look for it to be fully integrated into Health New Zealand so that trade-offs can finally be made between pharmaceutical and more expensive and dangerous surgical interventions.
Ardern's trip to the US went as well as she could have hoped. On the business side, Trade Minister Damien O'Connor — another more conservative, working-class Labour MP — has won a big and perhaps surprising fan in his boss. Businesspeople accompanying Ardern were impressed that she opened doors to no less than Larry Fink, chairman and CEO of BlackRock, managing over US$10 trillion in investment funds. They are grateful for the publicity stunts she performed to promote their products.
A good week's work. But next week, of course, it's back to the price of cheese and deteriorating polls.