July 27, 2006

Rice shares ASEAN stage with furry green frogs

By Mark Bendeich

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - It began with a head-butt and
ended with Asian domination of the world -- and in between U.S.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice played piano.

The annual gala dinner of the Association of South East
Asian Nations (ASEAN) lived up to its reputation as the whacky
highlight of regional diplomacy on Thursday night.

In keeping with tradition, foreign ministers from seven
countries, including Rice, performed away from the cameras for
the amusement of their ASEAN hosts, revealing both hidden
talents and, in a few cases, talents that are best hidden.

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso did a Humphrey Bogart
impersonation, New Zealand's Winston Peters sang like Johnny
Cash, China's Li Zhaoxing led a choir and South Korea's Ban
Ki-moon strutted the stage in green sequins.

Canada's Peter MacKay, dressed in black referee's uniform,
opened the night with a mock ASEAN-Canada football match that
ended with a Zinedine Zidane head-butt and a red-card.

Then Aso's troupe of foreign-ministry officials took the
stage and the night sped from mildly amusing to plain bizarre.

Seemingly inspired by comic books and the film Casablanca,
the plot of the Japanese skit revolved around a futuristic,
global pandemic of giant furry frogs.

As Aso, wearing trench-coat and hat, dragged Bogart-like on
a cigarette, his officials hopped on stage in frog outfits or
dressed as a fish, Power Ranger, or mutant lobster. A creature
called "Aso's Assistant Robot" also made an appearance.

China's Li followed.

His suited officials had not tried to compete with Japan
for costumes, but were easily the best singers. Penned by Li,
the patriotic lyrics serenaded a China "radiating with charm."

The South Koreans danced to Abba's "Mamma Mia," though
their minister only appeared at the end, dressed in
green-sequined jacket, to share the curtain call.

Unfortunately, there was no curtain.

If there had been, it surely would have come down on the
New Zealanders who whispered their way through "Oh Islands in
the Sun." Only Peters' gravelly voice could be heard.

Then Rice, wearing a red dress and pearls, gave a class in
genuine musical talent, though she was in more somber mood
after her trip to the Middle East.

An accomplished musician who studied the piano at college,
she stole the show, in a duet with a Malaysian violinist. She
called the piece, a Brahms sonata, a "prayer for peace."

Russia's Sergei Lavrov closed the show by lampooning his
host with a skit set in a future when ASEAN, not the United
States, was the sole superpower. Playing himself, he pretended
to be briefed by his Kremlin official on the new hegemony.

The rest of the world, he was told, was being forced to
sell goods for free to ASEAN to stay in its favor.

Lavrov: What have our U.S. friends offered?

Official: They are very, very smart. They have sent Rice.