Unlikely as it may seem, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and I have something in common.
We've both been offered Chinese government-sponsored visits to the western region of Xinjiang where, according to Amnesty International and other credible sources, as many as a million Uighur Muslims and other ethnic minorities are being held in "transformation through education" camps.
My opportunity was more than a year ago, when it was still possible to get on a plane and leave New Zealand.
By way of encouragement, back issues of the English-language China Daily were despatched to me, featuring photographs of journalists from many other parts of the globe inspecting the happy people of Xinjiang learning to operate sewing machines, manufacture electronic goods and generally have a great time being transformed through education.
Tempting as it was to travel on someone else's dime to one of the more remote and historically fascinating parts of the world, the prospect of being a prop in a propaganda campaign, not to mention knowing my phone and laptop would be liberally cyber-hijacked for inspection, lacked appeal.
A few weeks later, the Chinese embassy in Wellington made one of its fitful attempts to engage New Zealand media constructively by taking a bunch of us to lunch. As a treasured memento, we were each given a pile of publications further extolling the Uighur peoples' fabulous new lives.
This week, Pompeo was further ramping up US rhetoric on China's oppressive new laws in Hong Kong, its expansionism in the South China Sea and the treatment of minorities in Xinjiang.
The Chinese Government responded that Pompeo was free to visit Xinjiang any time. No doubt, a grinning gaggle of Uighur inmates would be found for the photo opportunity, somewhat in the manner of this week's show of unity by the National Party caucus clustering around its third leader in two months.
Indeed, while New Zealand has been diverted over the past couple of weeks by domestic political drama, the world has moved a few steps further in the developing Cold War between China and the United States and its allies.
Senior US defence and security officials have identified China as their primary global military threat. In a wide-ranging speech this month, FBI director Christopher Wray accused China of being "engaged in a whole-of-state effort to become the world's only superpower by any means necessary".
Among a long list of tit-for-tat actions, the US Government is considering banning the Chinese app TikTok and Justice Secretary William Barr is telling US corporations which "appease" Chinese interests that they risk being listed as "foreign agents".
In the UK, a final decision has been made not to use equipment made by the Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei in Britain's 5G rollout, and to excise it from existing mobile networks.
Meanwhile, military clashes at flashpoints on the border between China and India took a deadly turn before both sides pulled back, with Beijing noting that if the two largest Asian countries fought one another, that would only benefit the enemies of both. The US continues to woo India to its Indo-Pacific strategic security vision.
In response to these and other signs of growing tension — particularly the passage of new security laws that restrict basic freedoms in Hong Kong — Taiwan has just completed war games intended to simulate the independent island nation's response to a mainland Chinese invasion.
Throughout these developments, the New Zealand Government has taken a careful line, strongly criticising the Hong Kong security laws but stopping short of lining up with its allies in the Five Eyes global intelligence network in the quality of its condemnation.
And intelligence services Minister Andrew Little continues to insist the Government will not target any telecommunications company on the basis of its country of origin; that 5G equipment vetting is a neutral and bureaucratic process rather than a political one.
A weather eye is kept on the relationship between China and Australia, which has taken several turns for the worse. Beijing has begun imposing punitive trade restrictions on Australian exports and Canberra this month announced a A$270 billion ($288.2b) defence spending package because of its concerns about deterioration in regional relationships.
Through the midst of all this strides Covid-19, disrupting economies, societies and the normal contacts between nations that can be the difference between mutually advantageous co-operation and potentially catastrophic misunderstanding.
A big part of the problem is that the US has done so much to destroy its moral mandate for Western power leadership. A Labour-led Government's reluctance to line up with the Trump White House's China-bashing is both understandable and prudent.
However, it's clear that US Democrats also support a harder line on Chinese trade barriers, industrial and state-sponsored espionage and territorial expansionism.
It has also become a truism to say that the fine line New Zealand always walks between constructive relations with its largest trading partner — China — and its traditional security guarantor — the US — is getting harder to tread.
Right now, it is not assisted in an election campaign environment by the fact that the Foreign Minister is also the leader of NZ First. Winston Peters is already starting to wind up his populist rhetoric on various issues as opinion polls suggest the party may not return to the next Parliament. China has always been a handy punchbag.
The National Party's newly minted foreign affairs spokesman, Simon Bridges, suggests a National-led Government would align more clearly with traditional Five Eyes allies than the current administration.
At the same time, however, it is difficult to believe that the departure of its low-profile Chinese-born MP Jian Yang last week is not a response to the growing incompatibility of the National Party having a former English tutor at a Chinese spy school in its ranks.
But in an interview on Monday this week, before Todd Muller's resignation, Bridges was also careful to convey the need for a bipartisan political approach to the expression of fundamental New Zealand values.
"Jacinda Ardern, whenever she's been in an international context, has spoken quite clearly about our values and I doubt hers differ much from mine and National's in this regard," he said.
While China remains "a crucial trading partner", Bridges says "what's happening in Hong Kong is of a scale and seriousness where we must stand up for our values."
While some international commentary is starting to suggest that China is overplaying its hand in response to weakening American global influence, Bridges is frank: "I don't think it's controversial to say the US has withdrawn somewhat." Nor can China's "legitimate expectations, given its size, economic strength and cultural importance in the world order" be denied.
"New Zealand and China have a very mature, developed relationship and we would be working to do all we could if we were in government to continue that, whilst being clear on the things we disagree with," he says.
For the next few weeks, NZ like the US, will be focused domestically on its own politics. But after September 19, whoever is Foreign Minister will be facing a China-US balancing act that will only become more complex and fraught.