Prime Minister John Howard’s scarcely-concealed attempt to turn next month’s APEC summit in Sydney into a platform for his re-election is turning sourer by the day.

At the centre of the latest furore is President George Bush’s eleventh hour decision to arrive on the evening of September 4, three days before the official start, and leave before the final session when Asia Pacific leaders dress in the host country’s national costume for the prized official photograph.

Howard has started a hamfisted campaign to bring forward the photo session so that he can be seen standing next to Bush and other world leaders – a highly desirable photo opportunity to boost his (admittedly laughable) standing as an international statesman.

But news from the protocol departments in Canberra is that countries like Russia, China, Japan, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Mexico, Chile, Peru, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea have no intention of re-arranging their schedules to suit Bush or Howard.

They are insisting that the long-agreed and very traditional schedule be kept in place and they are privately furious that Bush is snubbing the final session when the communiqué from the leaders of the 21 APEC economies is released.

As one summit official in charge of meeting and greeting said: “Ambassadors representing Chinese President Hu Jintao, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin are not happy campers at the moment.” In another diplomatic blow to Howard’s role as APEC host, the Tokyo Government has announced that Abe wouldn’t be able to keep his commitment to become the first Japanese leader to address federal parliament.

Sydneysiders are seething over the hundreds of millions dollars on security which will turn the downturn city area into a fortress and are bracing themselves for other inconveniences imposed on traffic, commerce, the harbour, theatres, museums and no-go venues like the Opera House and the Museum of Contemporary Art.

How this is playing out in Bennelong on Sydney’s lower north shore is anybody’s guess. Incidentally, the Howard and Iemma Government’s goon squads have been touring restaurants conducting detailed security investigations of chefs, cooks and waiters. Next they’ll be hiring suitably vetted food tasters.

Peter Fray

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