Three years. Two leaders. And a whole lot of diplomatic shade.
This week, our country was name-dropped by a celebrity (twice), except that celebrity was sitting US president Donald Trump and the name-drop was a bizarre claim that the relatively small cluster of Covid-19 cases in Auckland right now was a “big surge”.
The prime minister, unsurprisingly, was quick to fire back, calling Trump’s claim “patently wrong”.
“I think anyone who’s following Covid and its transmission globally will quite easily see that New Zealand’s nine cases in a day does not compare to the United States’ tens of thousands, and in fact does not compare to most countries in the world,” Jacinda Ardern said.
Considering Ardern’s reputation as a kind and compassionate leader, that rebuke was about as fiery as we were ever going to get. But it’s not the first time Jacinda Ardern has played a game of back and forth with Donald Trump. In fact, it’s been almost three years of political shade.
‘Like Trump on immigration’
Before Ardern had even been elected, she was being compared to Donald Trump. It’s a claim that seems especially shocking now, with the benefit of hindsight.
“Meet New Zealand’s Justin Trudeau – except she’s more like Trump on immigration,” said the Wall Street Journal in a 2017 tweet.
Ardern wasn’t having it. When questioned on the comparison the next day by reporters, Labour’s freshly appointed leader labelled it as “offensive“.
“I absolutely refute the statement that was made there. And anyone who I think has been watching this campaign will know what was said there was absolutely false, and frankly offensive,” she said.
Just a few short months later, while sitting in her snazzy ninth floor Beehive office, Ardern would tell President Trump on the phone that she was looking forward to a productive relationship with him over the next three years.
‘No one marched when I was elected’
The first time the two leaders met was at a summit in Vietnam shortly after Ardern’s 2017 election victory. Trump, who reportedly believed Ardern was the wife of Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, said Ardern “caused a lot of upset in her country” when she was elected.
“You know, no one marched when I was elected,” Ardern retorted, referring to the numerous global protests that followed Trump taking office.
It’s possible the notably thin-skinned president could’ve taken some offence at this, but Ardern said she believed the president was OK with the comment.
“[Trump] is consistent,” Ardern later told the Herald. “He is the same person that you see behind the scenes as he is in the public or through the media.”
“New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, is young, forward-looking, and unabashedly liberal,” a Vogue headline read in early 2018. “Call her the Anti-Trump.” It’s the same article that gave us this photo of the prime minister looking like she was about to solve a child’s murder or get in the TARDIS.
For an article that only makes five mentions of the name “Trump”, labelling Ardern as the Anti-Trump was certainly a bold claim to make. It’s also quite a reverse from being compared to the president on immigration issues a year earlier. In fact, Vogue goes on to make comparisons between Ardern and two of Trump’s biggest rivals, saying she has a mix of “Bernie Sanders’ bluntness and Elizabeth Warren’s fearlessness”.
“We’ll work with anyone,” Ardern told Vogue. Even Trump.
‘We should celebrate our diversity’
After two years in the top job, 2019 finally saw our prime minister sit down for a one-on-one with Donald Trump – but not before she had the chance to criticise him just one more time.
In July last year, Trump had, shockingly, been accused of racism, after posting tweets asking Democratic congresswomen to “go back” to the countries where they “originally came from”. Ardern, despite claiming she doesn’t like to get into other countries’ politics, condemned the comments on RNZ.
“I completely and utterly disagree with him,” she said.
“I’m quite proud that in New Zealand we take the opposite view, that we take the view that our parliament should be a representative place, it should look and feel like New Zealand, it should have a range of different cultures and ethnicities and never should a judgement be made about the origin of anyone, and their right, therefore, to be in parliament as a representative.”
‘Perfectly productive, warm’
It had all been leading up to this. The first official sit-down meeting between Trump and Ardern, which was described rather insultingly in Trump’s schedule as a mere “pull aside”. For a little country like New Zealand, however, this was a big opportunity.
In a 20 minute discussion away from prying media, Ardern and Trump reportedly talked about our gun buyback scheme and trade.
Later, Ardern told media the meeting was “perfectly productive, warm [and] solid,” which is how I’d typically describe a triple-shot flat white the morning after a night out. Obviously, this article is focused on conflict between Ardern and Trump, but if someone described 20 minutes in my company as “solid” I’d probably take that as an insult.
Unlike Barack Obama, who famously never sent a tweet following his visit to New Zealand in 2018, it took Donald Trump less than a day to get on the socials.
“Wonderful meeting!” he said.
‘They’re having a lot of outbreaks’
Today, Trump has doubled down on his comments that New Zealand is seeing a major resurgence in Covid-19 cases.
“New Zealand, by the way, had a big outbreak, and other countries that were held up to try and make us look not as good as we should look, and we’ve done an incredible job.
“They’re having a lot of outbreaks, but they’ll be able to put them out, and we’ll be able put them out,” the president said.
I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what Jacinda Ardern has to say about it.