COMMENT:

For the first time in many a year, possibly ever, I paid some real attention to the Apec meeting in Papua New Guinea.

What will be remembered is the fact we got a front and centre view of the relationship currently between China and the United States.

It has seen better days.

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Beyond the trade war is the grab for the Pacific and in the middle of it are places like ours.

We are not as "in the middle" though as Australia is.

Australia is a major player in the region and commands genuine attention of both China and the States.

And although we would like to think we box in the same division, we don't.

I am sure we are liked and respected and seen as honest brokers. But no one is more influential here than Australia. They do more trade, they have greater military ties.

They are more militarily active, it probably goes some way to explaining why they have a trade sanction exemption with the States and we don't.

The Winston Peters argument from PNG was that we, as a result of all of this, are being seen with new eyes. The smaller Pacific nations are looking to us, and at us, in a more appreciative way.

I hope he's right ... but I suspect he isn't.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the New Zealand First coalition document with Labour was that payment to the Pacific by the way of aid.

That came out of left field, it seemed a very un-New Zealand First thing to do.

New Zealand First most of us thought meant "New Zealand First", not New Zealand First with bucket loads of cash for small island nations.

But once you got past the shock, the logic wasn't badly off the mark.

The play for Pacific influence is real, and money talks, and New Zealand needs, some argue, to be seen to be playing our part, and if you are of a mind towards fiscal kindness, you could also argue we have let it drift a bit in recent years.

But here is the big question. Just how much fiscal kindness is enough, and even with Winston's wallet out and the cash flying, will it ultimately make any difference at all given this all looks increasingly like a lottery, where the only winners are little countries with their hands out.

We, in aid terms, give enough each year in places like Tokelau and Kiribati and Nuie for families to live perfectly happily by doing literally nothing.

$86 million to Tokelau … population 1500, $70m to Nuie ... population 1600.
Do the math, and how long has that tap been on, and how long does it continue to be on for?

And what sort of message does it send as regards self-determination and economic improvement?

Then of course you get to the real game, which is the proper money and investment and loan activity from the heavyweights.

If they build government buildings and presidential residences and wharves and supply ships and planes and transport and power, does anyone honestly believe these places aren't beholden to the suppliers of those facilities and infrastructure?

Our Prime Minister waxed lyrical about the women's market we'd helped build in PNG, a women's market is the sort of altruistic sideline that will be long forgotten when the Navy bases are up and running and the runway extension is in and the lights are on.

The point here is this: 1. None of this is good for the islands, the more you are "shouted" the more addicted to free stuff you get, and as sure as night follows day, this will in some way shape or form end as regional interest is historically seasonal as the geopolitical plates shift.

And 2. If we think we are a player here, we are dreaming. Money talks and the more money you got, the more you drown out people like Peters standing on the sideline with a few gold coins.