Sir John Key will have to steer very carefully indeed to ensure his unparalleled access to China's top leaders sees him deployed as an asset for New Zealand.
Ten days ago, Key was back in Beijing being photographed shoulder-to-shoulder with Chinese President Xi Jinping, exchanging mutual compliments about the Belt and Road Initiative and the former NZ Prime Minister's contribution to bilateral relations.
This was front page news on China Daily.
Key clearly has a valuable Rolodex when it comes to his Chinese connections. Put that together with Helen Clark's connections as former head of the UN Development Programme and the pair could easily be utilised to NZ's benefit when it comes to promoting the 2021 Apec — now overshadowed by the International Convention Centre fire — to the region at large.
It's no secret that Key forged strong personal connections with Xi during his period as Prime Minister — that was obvious to any spectator at their many meetings over the years. Key has been very open that he is a "big China bull" and admires China's economic and business development.
Xi has dined with Key and his family and shared many insights into China's governance — the most famous of which was that (in China) "the invisible hand of the market is guided by the visible hand of government", which has been a signature shift of the Xi Jinping era.
But while Key's visit was reported fulsomely in China — including the future contributions he hoped to make to ensuring a strong bilateral relationship between New Zealand and China — he was not there in a political capacity. Official Chinese media overlooked the commercial rationale for Key's Beijing visit in favour of highlighting some political points which raised eyebrows at home.
In Key's case he was simply back in Beijing opening doors for Comcast's leadership which just that day inked a major partnership deal with Alibaba over the major theme park Universal is building in the Chinese capital. Key is on Comcast's international advisory board.
At last year's INFINZ conference, Key told NZ's top finance professionals about his post-politics career. "I do a lot of work for Comcast in the United States — we're the largest cable and broadcasting company in the world.
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"We just bought Sky in the UK very recently for the better part of US$55 billion, but we own NBC Universal and on the back of that we own Universal theme parks and we're building the biggest, most expensive theme park in the world in Beijing." Key is a well-known figure in both politics and business in China. He had earlier secured meetings with Chinese ministers and the Premier as Comcast developed its proposals. He is also well-known to Alibaba and its current CEO Daniel Zhang.
The story goes that Barack Obama informally pointed Comcast in Key's direction when asked for nominations to its international advisory board who had good connections with China and particular insights into that nation's decision-making. Comcast had been one of Obama's prime presidential backers.
Key does have sway. While New Zealand is a very small player in the region, Key visited China seven times during his prime ministership on New Zealand's behalf. He also met the top Chinese leadership many times at the Apec Leaders' Meeting and the East-Asia Summit during his time as NZ's Prime Minister; presided over the trade forum during the Sydney G20 and much more besides.
This gives some weight to his international cachet.
But from a New Zealand domestic viewpoint the visit raised questions. Inevitably, the unofficial meeting sparked comment contrasting Key's ready access to China's top leaders with the lengthy wait current Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had before achieving her first meeting with President Xi and Premier Li Keqiang at the Great Hall of the People this year.
Key will simply brush that off. His longevity as Prime Minister and track record speaks for itself.
But as former Prime Minister Dame Jenny Shipley found, former political leaders need to pay attention to how their comments are portrayed back here. Shipley was roundly criticised by Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters for reported comments that she says she did not make.
The Key coverage was more cautious.
There was more besides. Journalists did the rounds: no, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade was not involved; nor was ANZ, which Key chairs in New Zealand; nor the National Party.
The media curiosity highlights domestic sensitivities about the bilateral relationship.
Video coverage of the Key/Jinping meeting did not highlight the fact that Comcast's top brass were in the room.
There is another factor: as with the United States' hierarchical political system, China's top leaders tend to accord visiting dignitaries their highest political title — not their business affiliations.
Key will want to make sure he does not overshadow Ardern. If she was smart, she would say "forget about Comcast — what can you do for New Zealand?"