Jacinda Ardern’s red-carpet marathon in Vietnam on Monday was all about opening doors for New Zealand businesses, political editor Jo Moir reports from Hanoi.

The pomp and ceremony on arrival in Hanoi was a far cry from 24 hours earlier when the Prime Minister was literally elbowing her way in and out of meeting rooms in Cambodia.

Being the only woman leader at the East Asia Summit (EAS) has its benefits, making it easy for counterparts to spot Ardern in holding rooms, or pull aside for an informal chat on the margins.

But in large crowds moving from one jam-packed meeting room to the next, security and officials in Phnom Penh found it hard to spot a leader.

While the media encountered a Cambodian-style episode of Survivor over the course of the day, Ardern confirmed she too had her elbows out as she got pushed around in the flurry of moving leaders from one room to the next.

The staff controlling the meeting room doors of the East Asia Summit repeatedly got the shock of their lives when more than 100 journalists from around the world came at them en masse.

All-out-shoving was a necessary survival skill to hold onto prime viewing spots, and when a camera dropped to the ground amongst the moving scrum it was kicked to the side for the owner to gather after the stampede passed.

Security detail and entourages came in all sorts of sizes at the EAS.

Ardern’s was completely dwarfed by the likes of the United States, Russia, China, and Japan – each bringing more than a dozen in and out of rooms – making it quite difficult to even get eyes on the leader.

The streets of Phnom Penh have almost certainly never been cleaner than during the summit, nor have they been so devoid of people.

Coming from a small country Ardern’s used to having to push her way in to sidle-up to leaders she’s determined to have face-to-face time with.

It’s the likes of US President Joe Biden that everyone is wanting to rub shoulders with or claim to have seen, or even just been in the same building as.

His star power was never more on show than in the moment journalists from Cambodia and neighbouring countries rushed to gather around a television screen broadcasting Biden delivering his speech, each taking turns to have their e-selfie with the President.

Every host country of an annual summit has its own customs and quirks that add to these sorts of occasions.

Cambodia’s gala dinner on the eve of the EAS had entertainment for guests that included a performance titled “Sexy Lady” on the programme.

Another big feature is navigating getting leaders from one place to the next in a country where traffic is permanently at a standstill.

To help reduce the number of locals in Cambodia’s capital this week, three days of public holidays were declared to encourage people to stay home.

The streets of Phnom Penh have almost certainly never been cleaner than during the summit, nor have they been so devoid of people.

There is also a general desire at these types of gatherings to control every little detail, from where people can move and stop, to who can be in the room and for how long.

Media who had travelled from afar kept getting herded out of the room during opening remarks while their own leader was still talking.

Ardern found herself a target of this interruption, apologising to New Zealand media after the first time it happened during her bilateral meeting with the Cambodian Prime Minister, and promising she hadn’t actually said anything interesting.

On arrival in Hanoi on Monday it was out from the hotel conference room and into the Presidential palace and gardens.

Motorcades are still the preferred mode of transport for visiting leaders, but Ardern found herself getting up her step count when the Vietnamese Prime Minister decided an impromptu walk-through the gardens was the best way to get her to her next meeting.

Never mind the high heels she was wearing and the thick blanket of humidity outdoors.

It wasn’t the only walking expedition of the day either. Later on Monday evening after a gala dinner at the Presidential Palace, Pram Minh Chinh took Ardern on a second tour of the gardens, this time to show-off his impressive fruit tree collection.

Jacinda Ardern and Pram Minh Chinh with a pomelo – a Vietnamese fruit that will now be exported to New Zealand. Photo: Supplied

It was a day of back-to-back meetings with the various leaders of the Vietnamese governing system – four in total – and during the second round of opening remarks Ardern again found herself trying to stay on topic while glancing from side-to-side as officials frantically and loudly removed journalists.

Not one to be cut short a third time, Ardern purposely sped-up when the same thing started on her fourth-and-final meeting of the day.

There was a genuine look of victory on her face as she got the last few words in the direction of the microphones thrust high in the air as those gripping on to them got ushered out of the room.

In many countries, causing that kind of interruption while a leader is speaking would be viewed as discourteous, but host nations make the rules and for some the power move is more important than good manners.

Now the political formalities are done in Hanoi, Ardern will on Tuesday turn her attention to literally opening business doors for her trade delegation.

Jacinda Ardern enjoys a wine at a dinner welcoming her and the Kiwi trade delegation at the Presidential Palace in Hanoi on Monday night. Photo: Supplied

The Prime Minister’s handshaking with political leaders was the gateway to being able to spend two more days selling New Zealand to the Vietnamese for tourism and economic gains.

Ardern has a considerable halo-effect when it comes to getting that kind of access.

Spending 48 hours selling New Zealand to the Vietnamese will be a welcome reprieve, before yet again channeling her energy toward global trade and economic tensions at the APEC summit later this week.

Given reports of a relatively warm bilateral meeting between Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 in Bali on Monday, APEC members will be keen to see that translate into some consensus when they gather in Bangkok on Friday.

Jo Moir is Newsroom's political editor.

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