US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has arrived in the capital of New Zealand, where he was greeted by offensive hand gestures and thumbs-downs from protesters awaiting his arrival.
Over 200 protesters with the climate change action group 350 Aotearoa gathered outside the the parliament in Wellington to “unwelcome” Tillerson on Tuesday, following the recent decision by US President Donald Trump to withdraw from a climate deal negotiated in Paris.
Local news outlets reported that American press corps accompanying the top US diplomat on his eight-hour visit to New Zealand expressed great surprise at the hostile reception from members of the public.
“I’ve never seen so many people flip the bird at an American motorcade as I saw today,” said The New York Times reporter Gardiner Harris as quoted by the local Stuff news outlet.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Bill English also sounded not overly enthusiastic about the visit of the top US diplomat, saying at a press conference, “New Zealanders have for a long time not liked various presidents of the US and disagreed with their views about our anti-nuke policies for 30 years — but that doesn’t prevent us confirming our shared values and cooperating with them on security and defense.”
English later told reporters that he and Tillerson had “discussed our disagreement over the withdrawal from the Paris agreement.” He further said that Tillerson stood by Trump’s decision to exit the deal, which the US president has said does not serve US interests.
Greenpeace New Zealand referred to Tillerson as Trump’s “henchman.” In a protest action, the group also unfolded a huge banner from a nearby crane against denying climate change. Trump and those close to him have previously questioned climate change as a phenomenon.
New Zealand’s government remains committed to the Paris agreement and its target to cut emissions by 11 percent of 1990 levels by 2030.
The country’s opposition Green and Labor parties want the target to be lifted to 40 percent. The Greens co-leader, James Shaw, and the local Labor MP, Grant Robertson, spoke at the Tuesday protest rally at the parliament.
Shaw later said at the parliament that New Zealand had a “proud history” of standing up to the US over nuclear weapons, adding that it was not time to stand up for the climate.