Emperor Xi's China is Done Biding Its Time
Kevin Rudd Q&A in Bloomberg View
Tobin Harshaw of Bloomberg View published a Q&A with Asia Society Policy Institute President Kevin Rudd, who last year began a research study on contemporary China and Xi Jinping at the Jesus College at Oxford. Harshaw asks the former Australian Prime Minister about his studies as well as the current state of Chinese politics, the Chinese economy, and China's role in the Asia-Pacific region. What follows is an excerpt from the original interview.
Tobin Harshaw: So, it's obviously not typical for a former world leader to go back to school. Can you tell me why you decided to get an Oxford degree, and why you thought studying Xi’s China in that way was something you needed to do?
Kevin Rudd: Well, I’ve been a student of China now for 40 years, since I first started studying Chinese language and history and politics at the Australian National University at the end of the Cultural Revolution. But with the rise of Xi Jinping, there is something about China’s current rise which makes it fundamentally important to understand his particular worldview.
What do I mean by that? It’s that China is an authoritarian political system. We know that. Xi Jinping brings an extraordinary level of personal political power to what is already an authoritarian system. And as I’ve been predicting for some time, he’s going to be a leader for a very long time into the future. And that’s now been confirmed by recent constitutional changes. Therefore, understanding his own particular view of the role of the party, the role of the country within the region, and what China seeks to do in the world at large, I think now demands quite concrete and detailed studies. So, that’s why I’ve gone back to school and why I’m doing the primary research on Xi Jinping’s worldview.
TH: And, in a nutshell, can you tell us what exactly that view is? And maybe how it differs from the view of Deng Xiaoping and the intermediary presidents they’ve had since the 1980s?
KR: Well, if I could answer your question in a nutshell I wouldn’t be spending three years doing the research, then writing it up and maybe turning it into a book. But let me try to give you a haiku, to mix our East Asian metaphors, about how we best get a take on Xi Jinping’s worldview probably in three points. For 35 years or more now, there’s been a trend in China. These politics initiated by Deng are meant to normalize the functions of the Chinese state, as opposed to the party always dominating the state. Xi Jinping has turned that trend around, and we now see an assertion or re-assertion of the party’s absolute power. That’s the first point.
I think the second trend that clearly emerges is that Xi Jinping’s view is that the party and only the party, and only under his leadership, can hold China together as it undergoes this greater transition into becoming a global great power. And, in the course of the next decade, become the largest economy in the world. Therefore, he sees his leadership in the party as being central to that.
And then third, I think it’s this: We see, also, the reassertion of the importance of ideology within the country. There is less space for domestic political dissent over which way China is going domestically or internationally. There’s now more of a predisposition to have a central party line. These are big changes from the past. And finally, to sum up the question on China’s view of itself in the world, we’ve been told for a long, long time that Deng Xiaoping’s action was this: “Hide your strength, bide your time, never take the lead.” Xi Jinping in his last five years turned that on its head, and now we see consciously and deliberately a more overtly activist Chinese foreign policy and security policy and international economic policy in the world at large. All these things are new.