If there is one theme that sums up Apec's summit this year it is power, which is ironic as it was hosted by the least powerful member, Papua New Guinea.

The power of the press was evident, first of all, in exposing the purchase of a ridiculously expensive fleet of Maseratis for the event.

It also showed the power of the people in that protesting the purchase ensured they were left parked in the garage.


As Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern herself said, the trusty Toyota Highlander was perfectly good, thanks.

PNG Prime Minister Peter O'Neill undermined his Government's reputation as a steward not only for his own people, but for other countries' hard-earned cash which is given to PNG in large amounts.

That amount is not insignificant as Ardern pointed out to reporters travelling with her. Statistics from the OECD and the Lowy Institute in Sydney show that based on the aid received from 2012 to 2016, the annual average PNG received was NZ$860 million.

Most of it, 62 per cent, came from Australia, 10 per cent from China and 3 per cent from New Zealand.

The reason Ardern pointed to the stats was perhaps because the overall figures for Pacific aid, for that five-year period anyway, suggest that China is not quite the big powerful donor that it is made out to be.

Of the total NZ$3 billion annual average of aid, 39 per cent came from Australia, 11 per cent from New Zealand, 10 per cent from China, 8 per cent for the US and 6 per cent from Japan.

China has gone a spending binge recently so it has undoubtedly passed New Zealand as number two donor.

Australia has announced its own Pacific reset policy which seems to be a cross between China's binge-spending and New Zealand's appeal as part of the Pacific family.


Ardern's opening of a NZ Aid project in Port Moresby, the upgrade of Gordon's produce market for 2000 stall-holders, is classic New Zealand.

And constructed by Fletchers, it is difficult to see how the project can bring anything but good at a real human level, providing a decent work place for the predominantly female stallholders.

It is designed to empower women in the workplace, and Ardern used her diplomatic charms to encourage more women to enter politics to have more power over their own lives. Even one would be better than none.

Through the week, the power-pays about China's influence in the Pacific has played out in a war of words between China and the United States or duelling donations between Australia and China.

It is not so much a new Cold War as a cold cash war.

Ardern and Foreign Minister Winston Peters have tried to characterise themselves as the honest partners in the middle who care nothing for the fighting elephants.

They are just part of small country that has no opinion about China's influence in the Pacific - well none that they will articulate. They like to deal with Pacific countries as true partners, the classic honest broker role that has been the hallmark of Kiwi diplomacy.

But while words like partnership matter, so do actions. The biggest power play of Apec was the joint announcement by US, Australia, Japan and New Zealand (and PNG of course) to bring electricity to PNG by 2030.

But it also puts New Zealand firmly in the camp of powerful players who are trying to counter balance China's influence in the region. As the honest brokers, New Zealand is there for political value, not for the modest $20 million it will dontate.

But as power plays go, it is a wholly virtuous cause, no matter what the underlying motivation of the bigger players who want New Zealand alongside.

Who knew that only 13 per cent of the population had access to electricity?

One can only hope it leads to power to the people in every sense of the word.