A carpet shop in regional Turkey may be an unlikely place to begin a story about security in the Pacific and New Zealand's foreign policy but that's where Helen Clark was in April 2000 when she received an SOS from the Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands.
Clark was Prime Minister of New Zealand at the time and had been killing time before attending the Anzac service at Gallipoli when the call came through from Bartholomew Ulufa'alu, who was under siege by a mob outside.
"He couldn't leave the second floor of his office. He was in considerable difficulty. The mind boggles really," she says in an interview from the UK about New Zealand's independent foreign policy.
Ulufa'alu survived the immediate crisis but was captured by rebels and lost the leadership a few months later to the current PM, Manasseh Sogavare, in his first of four stints at PM.
In another four months, Clark and other leaders at the Pacific Islands Forum sat in the stifling heat on the atoll of Biketawa in Kiribati to approve the Biketawa Declaration.
It allows a collective response to security crises affecting members of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) and which the Solomons have needed several times, most recently in November last year when Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Fiji helped restore stability after riots.
It was that security assistance – which is still in place - that sat behind some of the sheer disbelief expressed in March when the Solomons decided to sign a security deal with China. Few close observers of China believe the denials that such a move could lead to a base in the South Pacific for the rapidly expanding PLA Navy.
There was an unusually strong reaction from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who called it gravely concerning and unnecessary.
There was greater disbelief when news emerged just over two weeks ago that China's Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, was flying not only to the Solomons for the signing but visiting eight Pacific countries with a proposal for a regional security agreement - which will be discussed at the PIF next month.
No one is better qualified than Clark to comment on geopolitics and the pressures being applied not just to the Pacific Islands but to New Zealand as the competition between China and the US intensifies.
And despite her firm belief that any Pacific security pact with China is unwarranted, it is clear she is also uneasy about New Zealand's shift so firmly into the US camp.
It was announced in July last year when Ardern set out New Zealand's views on the US place in the Indo Pacific – a speech which drew praise at the time from President Joe Biden.
But it was proclaimed with bells on in the joint communique issued by Biden and Ardern after her White House visit last week.
"I think if you read that statement that came from the White House visit, that's quite a perceptible shift, particularly in the language around security," said Clark.
"When you read it at face value, it doesn't have the feeling of a New Zealand statement. It's as if New Zealand has signed up to someone else's language and I think the statement needed a lot more New Zealand input.
"It creates perceptions that New Zealand isn't maintaining that kind of careful balance that it had."
And for Helen Clark, words and perceptions really matter in international relations.
"I am one for believing that every word has to be weighed and measured and have value when you are dealing with international relations and geopolitics, which is a sharks' pool, so you'd better be careful how you swim in it."
The communique endorsed the United States Indo Pacific Strategy, which is the US blueprint for using alliances of democracies such as the Quad (Australia, India, Japan and the US) and Aukus (Australia, the UK and the US) to counter China's ambition to become the dominant power in the region.
China's pact with the Solomons was singled out for concern, specifically "the establishment of a persistence presence in the Pacific by a state that does not share our values or security interests".
Clark acknowledged that leaders today were dealing with a more assertive China that has built up its military strength.
"But what is the best way of engaging with that? Is it to be a fully signed-up member of another camp or is it to pursue regional dialogue through the many mechanisms we have whether it's Apec, whether it's the East Asia Forum, whether it is the close association with Asean, whether it's building up relationship with the democracies in the North Asia Pacific, Japan, Korea, Mongolia - how do we bring India into the equation?
"I think we need to put our thinking cap on as a country on the Asia Pacific rim to think how do we keep a broad range of relationships here because not to have that is not very productive."
She said the balance for New Zealand had long been to be able to express the values of the country as a small western democracy while also being able to pursue its economic interests.
"The question is whether you want to continue to be known for having a carefully balanced foreign policy or whether you want to jump feet first into a camp where you are then really taken for granted as being part of group-think and not forming your own judgments and positions."
Clark's nine years as Prime Minister marked a new era for New Zealand in balancing both China and US, pursuing an avowedly independent foreign policy after having been suspended from the Anzus security alliance in 1985.
The diplomatic thaw by the US against New Zealand's anti-nuclear policy made giant strides after her two visits to the White House. By 2007, the US agreed not to try to change New Zealand's anti-nuclear policy – which removed a big rock in the road.
Simultaneously, Clark's Government got the first free trade deal with China.
In those days, it was possible to have an improving relationship with both countries without it being a zero-sum game.
John Key similarly under the National-led Government of 2008-2017 had good personal relationships with US President Barack Obama and China's President Xi Jinping.
"We found a way of working with both and obviously John Key continued in that tradition," said Clark. "No one ever thought either of us were signed-up members of a 'pro-China club.' "
"But we also knew that there were substantial economic interests and so we found ways of registering the differences quite firmly but in a way not falling into the trap the US fell into with New Zealand earlier, which was every time you brought out your calling card, you mentioned the things you didn't agree on first."
Until the breakthrough, the differences had come to characterise the New Zealand-US relationship.
"Every time officials and ministers ever met, the first thing on the American notes was the nuclear-free policy, which they didn't like. We never got past that."
Wang Yi's proposal has led to an unprecedented focus on the South Pacific as a key battleground for great power competition.
It has also led to accusations in New Zealand and Australia that they didn't do enough for the Pacific, with the implication being that if they had done more, the Solomons would not have turned to China.
Ardern, who was visiting the White House in the midst of Wang's Pacific tour, has been at pains to point out this week that New Zealand's contact with the Pacific has not waned despite the Covid restrictions – more than100 ministerial engagements in the past 18 months.
She also pointed out that based on the Lowy Institute's latest aid research, China does not do the heavy lifting in terms of aid in the region. Australia is the highest donor, followed by New Zealand and Japan and China is fourth.
Lowy's extensive database also shows that over the past 11 years, the Solomon Islands has received the second-highest amount from various donors at US$2.7 billion, with Papua New Guinea getting the most at $8.3b, Fiji $1.7b and Vanuatu $1.6b.
New Zealand's four-year planned allocation to the Solomon Islands for 2021 to 2024 is NZ$133.67 million.
But according to one plain talker, there are some things with which Australia and New Zealand cannot compete.
"China is quicker than most to see where there is a soft spot in the governance of a particular country and are completely unfazed by the need to corruptly induce a particular set of decisions that work in their favour - they never for a moment worry about that."
That is the observation of one Washington insider, James Clad, a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asia Pacific Security.
In that role and as a dual citizen (he went to high school and university in New Zealand) he helped to repair the relationship with the US – and was made a member of the NZ Order of Merit.
He is not very flattering about China's recent foray into the Pacific over the security deals.
"I think they came out of it looking pretty stupid,'' he tells the Weekend Herald.
It has given the small states of the Pacific a lot of leverage for further discussion.
"There's a tendency to get excited and, particularly in Washington, to say Australia and New Zealand are not really doing their job, which is to better monitor the region," he said.
"With the Solomons, there's a lot of things that simply can't be avoided. The Chinese are rich. We can't exclude them and the best thing to do is play a better game."
He admired Australia's previous Morrison Government's hardline on China and, as he described it, an unwillingness to give China a veto on national security.
"The Chinese snipered them but we must be aware that that's their style and if you yield, they have nothing but contempt for you.
"They think 'you're small, you're different, we've got you tied up, we've got you involved in a web of gold - is a Chinese expression.' You're a prisoner."
He welcomed New Zealand moving closer to the US, which was undeniable.
"There is no question about it and I think rightly so," Clad said.
"I think New Zealand was kind of enamoured with the white gold a little bit too long," he says, referring to the wealth sustained by dairy exports to China.
He understood New Zealand's tendency to be independent-minded but that had led people to think it didn't matter about being excessively independent-minded when big strategic issues were at stake.
"I think that's where there has been a rapid re-education of New Zealand in the past year and a half."
He said at times like this, some people would always point to neo-colonial behaviour by Australia and New Zealand but no one knew Pacific countries as they did – and a lot better than China.
China's diplomacy was quite insensitive and it was creating the rationale for Australia and New Zealand to remain tightly involved.
"Maybe in retrospect, we'll look back and see the whole development after David Lange as a brave show of independence but at the end of the day, the strategic and security situation almost insists upon a closer relationship between New Zealand and the US."
He said the main takeaway from Ardern's visit to Washington was the discussion about what New Zealand could do creatively with Australia in the Pacific.
"It's a question of reacting to changes and lifting our games, which doesn't always mean more money. It means directing our talented people at those places."
"We have a lot of knowledge in the region. We have a lot of enduring respect. They don't want to particularly send their children to school in Shanghai. They just want to send them to Sydney or Auckland. Look at the advantages. They want English. They don't really want Chinese. "
Someone who has spent a great deal of time working on New Zealand's relationship with China is John McKinnon, a former ambassador twice to China, a former Defence Secretary who now heads the NZ China Council.
"In my very long association with the NZ China relationship, this has probably been a more testing time than that of any other previous era," he said.
"That's because what I find when I go out and about in our country, in our society, is that there is a lot of anxiety about what China is doing and there's anxiety about what it's about.
"Some of that may be well-founded, some of it less so but it is a reality and it is something therefore that makes the position of any New Zealand Government interacting with China more challenging than it might otherwise have been."
People now expected the Government to respond to things they did not like China doing.
"In that sense, there has been probably something of a shift in the tone. I'm not sure there has been a shift in substance though," McKinnon said.
"For New Zealand, we see both China and the US as being part of this region and that means at times it is a bit tricky to navigate between the two but they are both part of the region so we are not in the business of excluding one or the other.
"We have a very significant relationship with China and also a very significant relationship with the US. They are both big countries, big economies and they have loud voices in the world.
"We in New Zealand have to find a way of working with those countries and managing them."
He thought China had a lot to contribute to the Pacific, whether it was in terms of climate change or development.
"I would imagine they will continue to have discussions. They may not lead down a security path because that may be something the Pacific countries themselves wouldn't feel comfortable with but I don't think China is going to disappear from the region - at all."