Secretary Clinton started her day today with a private discussion with a group of students who recently participated in the Embassy’s Connecting Young Leaders conference. The Secretary has consistently demonstrated a deep and meaningful commitment to engaging youth as she travels, and she always enjoys her interactions with students. This morning’s conversation was no exception.
The Secretary is also deeply committed to supporting the Department’s local and expat staff at our Embassies and Consulates abroad and, particularly, the spouses and children of our hard-working colleagues. She specifically asked that this morning’s schedule include a meet-and-greet with our Mission New Zealand staff and families, and we had a wonderful, morale-boosting gathering with about 100 folks from our Wellington and Auckland extended family.
As a fitting close to our time in Wellington, we visited the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, to pay our respects for the sacrifices made by the New Zealand military services in the ongoing struggle to preserve peace and security in the Pacific and around the world.
The Secretary conveyed to our good friend Dr. Wayne Mapp, New Zealand’s Minister of Defense (as well as Minister of Research, Science, and Technology), the gratitude and respect of the American People for New Zealand’s historical courage and commitment. Principles are not without cost, and Americans deeply appreciate the way Kiwis have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with their friends through challenging times. The Secretary laid a wreath inside Memorial Hall and placed a red rose on the tomb outside the hall.
We then drove back to the airport to board the Secretary’s airplane for the short flight to Christchurch. The skies were clear and blue most of the way, and the Secretary got an excellent view of the Southern Alps. In Christchurch we were met on the tarmac by Mayor Bob Parker and Minister for Economic Development Gerry Brownlee, along with Foreign Minister McCully (who had flown down with us). Our greeters were gracious and in good spirits despite being a bit damp from the steady drizzle.
Our first event in Canterbury was the presentation of a commemorative air navigation chart marking the flight path that the U.S. Antarctic Program has used for more than 50 years to reach the ice from its base in Christchurch. The Secretary spoke to a group of scientists, explorers, and other VIPs inside the American facility, not far from the LC-130 Hercules aircraft that are the workhorses of our Antarctic program.
Our next stop was the centerpiece of the Christchurch itinerary, a town hall discussion with approximately 500 citizens at the city’s Town Hall and Convention Centre, along with more than 3,000 other citizens viewing a live stream on the internet. After a brief welcome by Mayor Parker and an introduction by Dr. Therese Arsenau, the Secretary delivered remarks commending the resilience, strength, and skill of Cantabrians in responding to September’s massive earthquake and the many subsequent large aftershocks.
She then answered questions from the audience for more than an hour. I have always been impressed with Secretary Clinton’s enthusiasm for such free-wheeling exchanges. I don’t know many other leaders who are so consistently willing to step in front of public audiences and engage in real conversation.
After the town hall event, the Secretary sat for interviews with television journalists and then proceeded to a reception for U.S. exporters hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce at the Centre of Contemporary Art. AmCham chairman Mark Fitz-Gerald introduced the Secretary, who then spoke about the Administration’s National Export Initiative, the TransPacific Partnership, and the importance of encouraging free trade. Guests enjoyed refreshments and the work of artist Kristin Hollis on display in the gallery.
We quite deliberately left Friday evening free so that the Secretary could quietly explore Christchurch at her leisure and as she wished. We provided a long list of options, and, despite the rain, I know that she was sighted out and about after we left the AmCham reception.
Assistant Secretary Campbell, other members of the traveling party, Dr. McWaine, and I broke away to join Minister McCully for a night of rugby at the Final of the NPC (National Provincial Championship). Also enjoying the Minister’s hospitality were Minister Gerry Brownlee, Dr. Brook Barrington, and other Kiwi friends. Mayor Parker and his lovely partner Jo dropped by for awhile, and my colleague Bob and I reciprocated by dropping by the Mayor’s box for a drink at the half. A spirited battle through often torrential rain and wind ended with Canterbury up over Waikato 33 to 13.
In another fitting end to another hectic and productive day, we enjoyed dazzling Guy Fawkes Day fireworks from the stadium and on our drive back to the hotel. All in all, the afternoon and evening were a marvelous introduction to the Mainland for Secretary Clinton and our other visitors.