Palin's handlers take the conservative approach
Greg Torode and Dan Kadison
A triumph of low expectations? Quite possibly, but as always with Sarah Palin, that depends on who you talk to.
The controversial former US vice-presidential candidate and Alaska governor surfaced in Hong Kong yesterday to speak to a select group of global investors in her first visit to East Asia - and her first international foray since her failed campaign with Republican hopeful Senator John McCain.
Palin's handlers kept her hidden from public view in the Grand Hyatt for an investors' forum organised by local brokerage CLSA. Unusually, there were no outside meetings with local Republicans or politicians or press events - all typical for visiting US political figures, including McCain, who visited earlier this year.
The main event instead was a tightly choreographed speech and question-and-answer session behind closed doors. Talking to attendees, it was clear Palin was determined to brush aside criticism of her ignorance of world affairs and burnish her international credentials while painting herself as a 'small c' conservative. The 'drill, baby, drill' rhetoric of her stump speeches, geared to firing up American conservatives, was replaced with an international edge and a touch more humour and nuance. She spoke for more than 90 minutes, part of a paid engagement that her aides have admitted will help pay legal bills.
Palin talked up China's economic progress and urged continued US engagement, while warning that the world could not be blind to the challenges faced by an emerging China. She also urged Beijing to play a more responsible role on the world stage, particularly in dealings with nations such as Iran and North Korea. She said the Obama administration's decision to impose additional duties on Chinese-made tyres was possibly a mistake.
'She seemed to relish the chance to show us really who she is and what she thinks ... I thought she gave a good account of herself,' one Republican banker said. 'She mentioned Reagan and Thatcher and small government and fiscal discipline ... that was all good stuff for this crowd. She didn't mention either of the Bushes or Obama [by name] once.'
Not everyone was as generous. Some described people nodding off, walking out or even reading a newspaper at one point. Others dismissed her foreign policy ideas as the stuff of a high school project. She skated over global finance, and many noted that it did not appear as if she had written the speech herself.
A Frenchwoman who attended said she felt Palin was campaigning. 'It was a goodwill speech without referring to what is happening. Maybe as governor of Alaska she did well, but she's not for the presidency. You get the impression she doesn't know the world is changing and that the US is not the power it used to be.'
Investment banker Doug Coulter said he felt Palin was positioning herself, playing things 'straight down the middle'. 'There was some polish, warmth and confidence there, she constantly tied the big things back to conservative ideals,' he said.
Ex-New Yorker Mel Goode, a supporter of US President Barack Obama, said he went to the speech to get his own take on Palin. 'She was well prepared and she played to her strengths and made clear who she is and what she is about. Did she convince me? Well, she delivered well ... but then so does Pizza Hut.'