Christopher Luxon gets a ‘C’ on Japan trade trip

Power Play – Prime Minister Christopher Luxon is back from Tokyo and while the trade mission was an overall success, it was overshadowed by a distraction for which he only has himself to blame.

Luxon should have been thriving in Japan as a business savvy prime minister visiting a country New Zealand is only growing closer with both economically and politically.

Instead, he tripped himself up before the gun went off when he said previous business delegations were “C-listers” and “tag-alongs” in a pre-trip interview with NewstalkZB.

The comments were problematic for several reasons, the first being the awkward reality that many of the business delegates (Fonterra, Zespri, ANZCO) had been on previous trips.

It also downplayed the value of small businesses that make up a sizeable chunk of the economy and need to be celebrated and supported if we’re to diversity trade, as is often talked about by politicians.

The “C-listers” distraction dragged on far longer than it needed too; Prime Minister Luxon first saying the comments were out of context and he didn’t make them before finally conceding he could have worded them better.

Meanwhile, the business delegation was getting to work in Tokyo, closing significant space, renewable energy and investment business deals.

Christopher Luxon in Japan

The Prime Minister has visited Japan and tried sushi made using NZ seafood

While the Prime Minister’s performance in Japan didn’t necessarily impede these deals getting across the line, it was a missed opportunity for Luxon to maximise his corporate experience on the world stage.

He has sold himself as a great salesman for New Zealand, often remarking it’s the best little country in the world, and he will need a laser-focus on the positives of everything business has to offer if he’s to put this experience to proper work in the future.

Luxon left for Tokyo with ambitions of strenghtening both economic and security ties between New Zealand and Japan at a time of increasing volatility in the Indo-Pacific region.

While there, he announced the government would offer more (a navy ship and aircraft) towards efforts to detect and deter North Korea’s evasion of United Nations sanctions.

He also finalised a new deal that will see New Zealand and Japan share and protect top secret information after sitting down with his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida at the end of the visit.

It’s worth noting negotiations on this information sharing agreement started under former prime minister Jacinda Ardern but getting this across the line means Luxon can return home knowing he oversaw progress that means New Zealand and Japan are now closer partners.

Luxon spent more time talking about defence than he probably bargained for after the Boeing 757 blew several fuses while refuelling in Papua New Guinea; reiterating his view there is value in upgrading the plane, something that will form part of the coaliton’s defence strategy.

It underscored both the ongoing plight of the old plane and the outstanding work Defence Force personnel do with the resources they have, something that drew personal thanks from Luxon during the trip.

The plane made it back to New Zealand without issue on Thursday afternoon and the prime minister will now be turning his mind to Parliamentary business after a busy scrutiny week.

The broken down NZDF plane

Though his corporate experience meant he should have been perfectly positioned to nail this week’s trade mission he spent too much time tangled up in a distraction of his own making.

It underscores the fact Luxon, despite his business CV, is still a relative newbie on the world stage and may still have a way to go if he’s to squeeze the most out of these trips and score an ‘A’ grade.

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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