West Must Stick to Values, Despite Reality of China's Power

Kevin Rudd interview with The Asahi Shimbun


(Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

The following is the full excerpt of an interview with ASPI's Kevin Rudd originally published by The Asahi Shimbun on December 13, 2018.

With Beijing's growing economic and military clout in world affairs prompting talk of a new China standard, The Asahi Shimbun asked China expert and former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd his views about China's spectacular rise and what it means for nations such as Japan, the United States, and Australia.

Question: Although you are known for your extensive knowledge of China, your more recent comments have tended to be more critical. What led to that change?

Rudd: The reason is simple. The Communist Party's foreign policy work conference on Nov. 28, 2014, was a major meeting outlining the future change in President Xi Jinping's world view.

Media reports of that time talk about the need for China to participate in, shape and lead the reform of the global order. At a policy level, we have seen the Belt and Road Initiative and the AIIB (Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank).

Q: At one time in the past, you told me that China would move toward cooperation with the global order. Do you believe you were mistaken in your analysis?

Rudd: For me, there has not been a misjudgment, but there has been a change in China. Prior to November 2014, it was clear what the Chinese line was. China was slowly increasing its regional and global footprint under Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao. But with Xi Jinping we have a doctrinal shift.

Q: How do you think China wants to change the world?

Rudd: China's end game is the realization of the China Dream. For the centenary (as a nation) in 2049, China is seeking to become two things, an advanced economy but also to resume its historical position as a global great power. China is now seeking to take the opportunity in what they perceive as a declining and withdrawing America, to occupy that vacuum and to begin to reconstruct an international system with more Chinese characteristics.

Q: What do you think are the reasons that China is trying to create its own world order, even at the risk of aggravating the United States?

Rudd: China for 40 years has been implementing reform and opening of its market. Along the way it has had to accept, sometimes reluctantly, Western norms, such as human rights provisions. That means China having to deal with external pressure from the norms of the international system affecting China domestically. China will now push back into the international system by projecting Chinese norms into the international system.

The organizing principle for this is the Chinese Communist Party's internal view of its own future. The party wants to survive and it must maintain its ideological position and its political strength. To do that it needs to defeat the Western ideas of liberal capitalism and bring about the triumph of its own form of state capitalism.

Q: In response to this hard-line stance in China, there are growing concerns in the United States about a China threat. Why has it become almost impossible to hear any pro-China voices in the United States now?

Rudd: Among American academics on China, the final roll back of limiting intellectual, artistic and political freedoms within China domestically has had a big effect on the internal feelings of the American academy. Most of these American Sinologists have thousands of friends in the Chinese academy and they have felt personally the impact of the changes in the Chinese system.

Q: Has there been a fundamental change in U.S. policy toward China?

Rudd: The danger in America is this. America is like a pendulum, it goes from we love China to we hate China. It goes from peace to war, from engagement to conflict and confrontation.

The (George W.) Bush administration believed in engagement and competition simultaneously. The Obama administration believed in engagement with hedging. This administration says it believes in strategic competition only. That's the difference.

It's helpful for the Americans to conclude that the rise of China and the change of China's policy and America's reaction to China is structural. China is now very big. There's the Chinese economy and there's the American economy. It's structural.

Q: Has the world entered into a "New Cold War?"

Rudd: I think it's dangerous at this stage to use the term Cold War. Cold War has particular definitions. No people to people contact, no economic contact, ideological warfare, third country physical war.

We have strong ideological differences. But we have 350,000 Chinese students in America. This is the largest trading relationship in the world, and there's no third country warfare.

Q: When you served as prime minister and foreign minister, one label given you was as "pro-China." What is your response to that?

Rudd: We pursued a balanced policy toward China. We are a capital importing country. Big continent, small population. Each of these investments has to be looked at on its individual merits. Does it help the Australian national interest?

We rejected a Chinese foreign investment application for Rio Tinto (the British-Australian natural resources company). We rejected Huawei in Australia's domestic broadband network.

The subsequent conservative government has had a range of different policies on China. The decision (to lease to a Chinese company) the Port of Darwin was a decision by the Australian conservative government. The Australian conservative government repeatedly described me as being too hard-line on China.

Q: But the recent case of a Labor Party parliamentarian who resigned because of a questionable relationship with a Chinese company does raise concerns about Chinese penetration into Australia, doesn't it?

Rudd: The laws in Australia are very strong. On the economy, we have very strong laws on investment and technology.

The challenge for those of us (like Australia and Japan) who are liberal democracies wanting to engage China economically while still defending our national security and our political values is to find the balance between those two objectives. It's not easy, it's hard because our American and Chinese friends are going to try to push us in one direction or the other.

Q: You have been involved with China for more than 40 years since you were a college student. Do you feel betrayed by the changes that have occurred in China in recent years?

Rudd: There's no sense of personal change. China is now very big and seeking to identify and pursue its future in the region and the world. China has said it doesn't want to accept the rules and provisions of the liberal international order. There's a question of how we deal with those realities.

Q: With the engagement policy toward China having hit a roadblock, how should we deal with China in the future?

Rudd: We must acknowledge all the positive contributions China has made to the global economy. Remember China has been the biggest factor in global economic growth for the best part of 15 years. No Chinese growth, then the global economy would be much poorer. The question is can we construct with China a set of arrangements for the global order that accepts the reality of greater Chinese power and influence, while not yielding our views on the question of the liberal international order.

Q: That appears to be a very tall order, but what can be done realistically?

Rudd: There's a need for some internal surgery for the West.

We need to establish a form of global capitalism which is socially and economically responsible, rather than a form of casino capitalism where financial markets govern the real economy rather than the real economy driving financial markets. We suffered an enormous setback with the global financial crisis (in 2008) when the Americans failed terribly in their management of the global financial system.

Question: Under the Trump administration, isn't the United States moving in a completely opposite direction?

Rudd: It's hard to defend the global rules-based order when the Americans unilaterally withdraw from the Human Rights Commission, when the Americans routinely attack the World Trade Organization, and when the Americans consistently defund the United Nations. The problem with the (Trump administration) is that its arguments are about American national interests and national values, and not an articulation of global interests and global values.

Read the interview on The Asahi Shimbun.