Former vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin said the US government was wasting taxpayers’ money and could aggravate poverty, said delegates at her first speech outside North America on Wednesday.
Palin, the former governor of Alaska, gave hundreds of financial big-hitters at the CLSA Investors’ Forum in Hong Kong a wide-ranging speech that covered Alaska, international terrorism, US economic policy and trade with China.
Her performance, which was closed to the media, divided opinion.
Some of those who attended praised her forthright views on government social and economic intervention and others walked out early in disgust.
“She was brilliant,” said a European delegate, on condition of anonymity.
“She said America was spending a lot of money and it was a temporary solution. Normal people are having to pay more and more but things don’t get better. The rich will leave the country and the poor will get poorer.”
Two US delegates left early, with one saying “it was awful, we couldn’t stand it any longer”. He declined to be identified.
Palin, who shot to national and international prominence after Senator John McCain picked her as his running mate last year, stepped down as Alaska governor in July but has provided little insight into her future plans.
She is expected to write a book and has said she will travel the country campaigning for candidates who share her political ideology.
In the CLSA speech, which lasted about 75 minutes, Palin also tackled the recent US trade spat with China, a country she said the United States should have the best possible relationship with.
According to delegates, she said US President Barack Obama’s administration worsened an already difficult situation when earlier this month he slapped duties on Chinese tire imports blamed for costing American jobs.
They said she praised the economic policies of former US President Ronald Reagan and criticised the current administration for intervening too much during the recent financial crisis.
Although she touched on the threat posed to the United States by terrorism and talked about links with traditional US allies in Asia such as Japan, Australia and South Korea, one Asian delegate complained she devoted too much time to her home state of Alaska.
“It was almost more of a speech promoting investment in Alaska,” he said, declining to be named.
“As fund managers we want to hear about the United States as a whole, not just about Alaska. And she criticised Obama a lot but offered no solutions.”
Another said he was disappointed that she took only pre-arranged questions.
There were no apparent gaffes though from Palin, who was mocked during last year’s presidential campaign for her lack of experience in foreign affairs and for her verbal blunders.
Several delegates saw the speech as a sign of her ambitions to run as a presidential candidate in 2012 and a useful indication of the potential direction of US politics in the future.
“It was fairly right-wing populist stuff,’ one US delegate said.
Palin blasted Obama’s proposals on healthcare, reiterating a previous statement made to the press that the plan would include a bureaucratic “death panel” that would decide who gets assistance, he said.
Another from the United States said: “She frightens me because she strikes a chord with a certain segment of the population and I don’t like it.”
CLSA, an arm of French bank Credit Agricole, said it closed Palin’s session to the media after she indicated that she would have to adjust her speech if reporters were present.