Ardern rises to APEC test

Three and a half months ago Jacinda Ardern was going down badly in the polls with Labour led by Andrew Little.

In rapid succession she has taken over the Labour leadership, lifted Labour to a creditable election result, negotiated her way into becoming New Zealand’s Prime Minister, and has just mingled with world leaders at the APEC summit in Vietnam.

Ardern has risen to each occasion.

Vernon Small:  Jacinda Ardern passes Apec summit test

“Oh, there’s Vladimir Putin over there,” was how she put it in a nutshell when chatting to the media, and showing off the Apec leaders’ “silly shirt”.

As an aside, she has been super-accessible to the media on the visit to Vietnam for Apec.

The wheels were barely up on the Air Force plane leaving Wellington before she was wandering down the back to the cheap seats to have one-on-one chats with reporters.

It brought back memories of John Key at his most media friendly and was also a reminder of Key’s last Apec summit, in Peru, when he disappeared behind the first class curtain and stayed there. It was only days before he stepped down and was a signal we all missed at the time.

Good leaders maintain good rapports with journalists. They need each other for success.

Was the summit itself a success for Ardern?

Well, she had the photo-op handshake with Donald Trump and it was, she said,  “standard”.

That was the only contact she had with Trump, probably wise at this stage.

Now for Ardern, she’s off to the East Asia Summit, which kicks off in Manila on Monday.

There the focus will shift to geopolitics from trade (though the unexciting RCEP trade deal is on the agenda).

Ardern’s next test is whether she and Foreign Minister Winston Peters can make the nuanced calls and walk the narrow path between the interests of China, the US and the other regional nations – especially over the South China Sea and North Korea – successfully trod by National in recent years.

This is a big step up from traipsing around New Zealand trying to bolster Little’s flagging campaign.

And it’s a step that Ardern has so far managed very well.