By Tim Murphy
Little New Zealand, as the diplomats say, is now boxing above its weight. Auckland is about to host Bill, his nuclear-trigger briefcase, one of Boris Yeltsin's right-hand men, three representatives of "One China", the Secret Service, CNN, the BBC, the New York Times, Air Force One and 7000 hangers-on.
For just under two days, eight Presidents, eight Prime Ministers, a Sultan, Hong Kong's billionaire Chief Executive and senior figures from Taiwan and Russia will look to Chairman Jenny for leadership and permission to speak.
Underlying this heady status, New Zealand also has Mike Moore as head of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), watching over deals among countries valued at a cool $US6.5 trillion in 1998.
Throw in the fact that New Zealand served a term on the United Nations security council this decade, and Don McKinnon looks set to take over the Commonwealth's top job, and the profile and influence of this Pacific island nation starts to look right out of proportion.
In global terms, New Zealand is a mouse that roared. But how come anyone listened?
In most of the cases above - the Security Council seat, Mike Moore's success and Don McKinnon's Commonwealth bid - it was because of the very fact that New Zealand is small, and because our big friends had wider agendas. We fitted the bill, being "western" and having the right blend of size and region. And we were in the right place at the right time.
After our anti-nuclear stand in the 1980s we had been made to pay our dues, become more internationalist and not rock the boat.
Becoming chairman of Apec, and thus hosting the leaders' summit, was a far simpler matter: it was our turn.
Apec's leadership has been rotated annually, and several years ago Jim Bolger's National Government saw a big election year bonus in volunteering to host the 1999 meeting.
Had New Zealand been considered suspect in any way, or incapable of pulling off the task, a way would have been found to deny us the job.
So is it any less of an achievement, chairing such a potentially influential world body by rotation?
Only if you don't make of it what you can.
When Shipley takes the chair in less than three weeks, many New Zealanders before her will have taken the same role in lesser forums.
Since last December there have been 10 meetings of officials, business people, women leaders and trade ministers.
And, by many accounts both here and abroad, the New Zealanders are considered to have run Apec well.
Darby Higgs, deputy director of Australia's Apec Study Centre, says: "We are very pleased that it is in New Zealand. We are impressed that New Zealand is making something of it and probably a better job than Australia would be doing."
New Zealand's decision to forego hosting the Apec finance ministers' meeting Ð scheduled, oddly, for May next year Ð so it can be held later as part of the next Apec round, has been seen as working in the region's interests rather than our own, he adds.
The director of Auckland University's Apec Studies Centre, Robert Scollay, says the feedback he has had is that "New Zealand has managed the process well and people are pleased that it has been brought back onto an even keel.
"New Zealand's officials are seen within Apec as being very competent and they have a pretty good reputation. And that's not the case for all member countries."
Ironically, New Zealand's image in Apec as one of the leading proponents of trade liberalisation has caused some concern, says Scollay.
"Sometimes some of the economies have thought we are too single minded about liberalisation and do not do enough in terms of community building and capacity building."
But the Asian economic crisis has brought a new emphasis in Apec on economic reform and market strengthening Ð areas where New Zealand is in better standing.
"Here New Zealand is seen as a pretty good model and has found it very easy to get accepted," says Scollay. "It's seen as a natural leader at this time."
Being in the chair this year has brought its burdens; New Zealand has had to co-ordinate (at the WTO in Geneva) the handling of trade liberalisation issues which Apec members themselves could not agree on when they were debated at the Kuala Lumpur summit.
But the highest profile task falls to Shipley.
On Sunday September 12, at the Carlton Hotel, when all but the aides Ð one per leader Ð have been evicted, 20 sets of eyes will turn her way and the unspoken question will be: "what do we do now?"
Wisely, Shipley has already started to lower domestic and international expectations. There will be no spectacular policy breakthroughs or pledges. No Malaysian-style aesthetic gaucheness and no "megaphone diplomacy."
New Zealand's over-riding aim is to breathe some life back into Apec and to ensure that this group representing half the world's economic power goes to the WTO's ministerial meeting in Seattle in November singing from the same song sheet.
If New Zealand can play a part in having the US, Japan and China in accord before the WTO summit, Auckland may have had a more lasting success than many had anticipated.
For Shipley and her guests, the immediate hope will be for a smooth, unified, consultative and constructive two days.
A case of under-promising and over-achieving. In a very New Zealand way.
By Tim Murphy