US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson landed in New Zealand yesterday during his tour of countries in Asia and the South Pacific. And the people of New Zealand greeted him with a sea of middle fingers. Why did so many kiwis flip off Tillerson’s motorcade? They’re upset about the Trump regime’s abandonment of the Paris Accord, a climate agreement with near universal support.
Two environmental activists scale a crane in Wellington and unfurl a banner to welcome Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in New Zealand (Photo courtesy of the New Zealand Green Party)
“I’ve been in motorcades for a couple of years now [and] I’ve never seen so many people flip the bird at an American motorcade as I saw today,” said Gardner Harris, White House correspondent for the New York Times, according to the New Zealand news outlet Stuff.
NBC News correspondent Andrea Mitchell also seemed a bit surprised at the overwhelmingly negative reaction in New Zealand.
SecState Tillerson's motorcade arriving New Zealand greeted by people signaling thumbs down & display of middle fingers for quitting Paris
— Andrea Mitchell (@mitchellreports) June 6, 2017
Some people who came out in the pouring rain to protest the Trump regime in New Zealand even brought an effigy of the US president, complete with his ridiculous “Make America Great Again” hat. Two activists also scaled a construction crane to unfurl a large banner that read “Climate Denial, Huuge Mistake! Resist.” The double “U” in “Huge” being a reference to Trump’s cartoonish way of speaking.
Activists protest outside Parliament with an effigy of President Donald Trump during Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to Wellington, New Zealand on 6 June 2017 (Nicholas Jones/New Zealand Herald via AP)
The scene wasn’t much calmer for Tillerson indoors, as the Secretary of State was hit with questions about Trump’s most recent scandals during his press conference with New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English. Both protesters and journalists reminded Tillerson of his former role as the head of ExxonMobil.
Secretary Tillerson tried to reassure journalists that just because the US has backed out of the Paris Accord, it doesn’t mean that the US is retreating from environmental reforms. His response wasn’t altogether convincing, however, when it came to fears about the isolationism that has peppered the president’s rhetoric in a pseudo-populist torrent of garbage.
“The United States has an extraordinary record of reducing green house gas emissions. Possibly unparalleled by anyone else,” Tillerson said.
“That’s been done without the Paris Climate Accord,” Tillerson explained, emphasising the broad role of “innovation” as a way to reduce carbon emissions.
Ironically, it’s rumoured that Tillerson is one of a minority on Trump’s staff that actually encouraged the president to stay in the Paris Accord, but we don’t know for sure. Recently, ExxonMobil joined a host of other companies to encourage the US to stay in the climate agreement, which allows individual countries to set their own goals and has no real enforcement mechanism if they don’t reach them.
Tillerson was also asked about relations with Russia, and said that while the relationship was not good at the moment, President Trump had asked him to engage with the country and ignore the current scandals about collusion.
“The president’s been very clear with me that Russia is an important global player,” Tillerson said. “And today our relationships with Russia are at a very low point and they have been deteriorating. So the president asked me to begin a reengagement process with Russia to see if we can first stabilise that relationship so that it does not deteriorate further.”
“And then can we identify areas of mutual interest where perhaps we can begin to rebuild some level of trust and some level of confidence that there are areas where we can work together,” said Tillerson.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson shakes hands with Prime Minister Bill English during a press conference at Premier House on 6 June 2017 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
One reporter managed to squeeze in one last question about Trump’s tweets after the scheduled end of the press conference. Trump attacked the mayor of London earlier this week in a grotesque display that has been roundly recognised as petty and harmful to North America’s relationship with the UK. But Tillerson more or less said the president’s going to do whatever the president wants to do.
“The president has his own unique ways of communicating with the American people, and the world, and it’s served him pretty well,” Tillerson said. “And I don’t intend to advise him on how to communicate. That’s up to him.”