The Prime Minister's chance meeting with the Dalai Lama in a Brisbane airport departure lounge is just too cute. The pair managed 10 minutes' discussion on inter-faith issues and diversity as they waited, one hand on the carry-on bag and one ear out for the departure announcement, for their flight to Sydney.
Attempts to portray this meeting as a chance encounter could not even be sustained by Helen Clark for more than a few minutes: she acknowledged her staff had known of the possibility for a couple of days. The reason for the contrivance, surely New Zealand's rather than the Tibetan spiritual leader's, is fear of upsetting China. But even now, China will not be mollified.
It might be pleased to have made the Dalai Lama's time with the New Zealand leader so transitory and indecorous, but it is unforgiving in its expectation of its friends when it comes to the Dalai Lama and the Falun Gong group.
Helen Clark ought to have met him in this country, formally, next week. Freedom of expression, recognition of human rights and common courtesy demand as much. Perhaps she will, if they bump into each other at a taxi stand.
National Party leader John Key decided yesterday to "drop in for a talk" with the Dalai Lama when he meets the party's foreign affairs spokesman next week. His half-hearted obeisance to Beijing is almost as bad.
Foreign Minister Winston Peters at least has a one-on-one meeting scheduled but only as New Zealand First leader, not as a minister. Why all the fear and shame? Because New Zealand is some years into its bid to secure the first free trade agreement with China.
In Australia, after much dithering, both Prime Minister John Howard and Labor leader Kevin Rudd met the Dalai Lama. But then Australia is further down China's list, and Australians are direct, rather than apologetic, with both their guests and their trading partners.