Video: Kevin Rudd on How the US and China Are Correcting Their Trust Deficit

Kevin Rudd, incoming President of the Asia Society Policy Institute, said he believes U.S. and Chinese leaders have established “the beginnings of a framework” to manage the most difficult elements of the U.S.-China relationship while advancing their shared interests.

That accomplishment, Rudd said, made the November 2014 meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping “probably the best that’s been had since Xi Jinping took over.”

Speaking at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting 2015, Rudd said China’s lack of trust toward the United States arises from a belief that “America [does not] accept the legitimacy of the Chinese political system.”

“If you want an element of strategic distrust, there’s nothing more distrusting than the view that the other guy actually thinks you are legitimate and wants to get rid of you,” Rudd said.

Rudd said he also senses a Chinese concern that the United States is “locking them in” to an unfavorable regional security arrangement “that has direct geoeconomic implications” for China.

“When I look at Xi Jinping’s statements and he talks about the new Asian security concept, it is one that does not automatically seem to include the United States,” Rudd said. Yet Xi’s vision for the Asia-Pacific economy does entail U.S. involvement, Rudd added.

“My own view, having spent the best part of one year thinking about this, is that unless you embrace [both economic and security involvement], it won’t work,” said Rudd.

On the American side, Rudd said, senior policymakers perceive that China wishes to avoid military conflict with the U.S. and aspires to “to economically overwhelm Asia and ultimately therefore cause Asia to become more politically compliant to Beijing.”

“There is a general nonacceptance or nonawareness across the American policy elite about the extent to which China is now a central economic power – not just in Asia, but in many other regions of the world. This is not grasped intuitively in America,” Rudd said.

Nevertheless, Rudd said, “I think there’s enough in the public language of the Americans and the Japanese and the Chinese to start moving towards a common regional vision.”

“I think our model should be an expanded ASEAN,” Rudd said. “With ASEAN at the core, we [would] use the East Asia Summit, which is ASEAN-based, to evolve a common concept of a regional community for the future which incorporates both the security and the economic dimensions.”

About the Author

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Joshua Rosenfield is Director of Content Strategy with the Asia Society Policy Institute. He is based in New York.