It wasn’t so much an elephant in the room as an elephant glaring in through the window.
When Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, had a series of meetings at Auckland’s Sky City Grand Hotel on Friday , he and the other participants were able to see through the floor to ceiling windows the New Zealand headquarters of Huawei with its large illuminated sign right across the road.
Huawei was expected to be discussed in his meetings with the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern. But in their joint press conference she stuck rigidly to her script.
“Our discussions were prefaced by the fact that we have our own processes and systems
“ We of course make our own decisions based on our own national interest and based on our own independent foreign policy.
“Of course, we are close friends and allies.
“We talk frequently, we are both part of Five Eyes.
“But ultimately what determines our position on issues around national security, will always be our nationally determined position.
“On Huawei, of course you well know that our process is governed by the Telecommunications Interception, Capability and Security Act (TICSA).
“We are still in the middle of that process at the moment, the option of mitigation sits with Spark and that is who the GCSB deal directly with.
“As I’ve always said, we of course are aware of other countries’ positions, but our position is our own.”
Australia has barred Huawei , and it would seem more definitely than New Zealand, and the meeting between Ardern and Morrison took place against a backdrop of reports on Friday morning of China blocking Australian coal imports.
Morrison was not phased by this.
“This happens from time to time,” he said.
“We will just work constructively with our partners in China about those issues.
“So what we’re engaged in, as indeed New Zealand is, is just pursuing a constructive relationship with China, a very constructive relationship with China.”
But also hovering the background were reports of a Fox Business News interview on Thursday with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
“If a country adopts this (Huawei) and puts it in some of their critical information systems, we won’t be able to share information with them,” he said.
“We won’t able to work alongside them.”
Taken literally, this would mean that if New Zealand did approve some Huawei equipment being used by Spark, then it would risk being thrown out of the Five Eyes intelligence arrangement.
The dilemma facing the Prime Minister was defined by the Chinese Ambassador, Wu Xi, who last Monday said: ““When sailing through uncharted waters, it is vitally important to firmly hold the rudder, carefully steering through the rocks. “
However it would be highly unlikely if New Zealand broke with Australia over intelligence and security matters and there certainly seemed, from their body language, to be a positive relationship between the two Prime Ministers on Friday even if Ardern did throw in a barb about Australia’s criminal deportation policy at their press conference.
Morrison, who headed New Zealand’s Office of Tourism and Sport between 1998 and 2000, seemed genuinely pleased to be back here.
He told Opposition Leader Simon Bridges that he found the welcome Powhiri at Government House in Auckland “very moving”.
Bridges suggested any powhiri was quite fierce.
“It is,” said Morrison. “But it is all about respect.
“That’s one of things I picked up when I lived here all those years ago.
“It’s the heart of the (Maori) culture”
Morrison said that the word he loved, more than any other Maori word was “mana.”
“There is no equivalent for it in English.”
Mana refers to an individual having prestige, authority and power.
Bridges told Morrison it was great to have him back.
“And we don’t hold it against you that you worked for Murray McCully,” he said.
“Many would,” retorted Morrison.
Several times through Friday Morrison repeated his same definition of the relationship with New Zealand.
“It goes beyond politics, beyond sport; it goes beyond everything,” he said.
And it is that closeness that suggests that if it does come to the crunch over Huawei, whilst New Zealand might be happy to annoy the Americans, it would be very unlikely to risk a scrap with Australia.