Saturday 09 Oct 2021 | 19:06 | SYDNEY
Saturday 09 Oct 2021 | 19:06 | SYDNEY

How does Rudd see China?


Sam Roggeveen


30 March 2009 16:36

Tim Johnson, Beijing bureau chief for the American newspaper group McClatchy, writes on his blog:

Kevin Rudd, the Australian prime minister, is a man to watch when it comes to observing China’s relations with the world. As everyone probably knows by now, Rudd, a former diplomat, speaks Mandarin well and is seen by China as a friendly interlocutor. But Rudd is hypersensitive about being seen among Australian voters as too cozy with the Chinese so he virtually never speaks with the Australian press about China.

The PM can be accused of many things, but I'm not sure that hiding his interest in China under a bushell is one of them. I can't recall Australian journalists complaining that the PM is unwilling to talk about the subject. Nor was there any 'hypersensitivity' on display in the run-up to the 2007 election. His China expertise was a big selling point on his CV, and he stole the then-Government's spotlight when, at an APEC luncheon, he addressed a Chinese delegation in Mandarin. Soon after he became PM, he announced that his first big overseas trip would include four days in China but no time at all in Japan.

Perhaps one reason Rudd has gotten away with this is because he has shown he is no China apologist (though this is a rather severe and even offensive understatement: 'They're not perfect. They've done some bad things in the past'). That was particularly evident in the remarks he made in China on human rights and Tibet.

Current controversies notwithstanding, I suspect we will see this ambivalence about China on display again when the Defence White Paper is released. Particularly if rumours of a big expansion of our submarine fleet prove true, it will be very hard to paint that as anything other than a hedge against China.