Sunday 14 Aug 2022 | 17:34 | SYDNEY
Sunday 14 Aug 2022 | 17:34 | SYDNEY

Rudd Asia Society speech


Sam Roggeveen


17 January 2012 12:24

Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd's recent speech to the Asia Society is a lucid and bracingly matter-of-fact treatment of the challenges presented by the rise of China. Plain English is not the Foreign Minister's strong suit, so when he does deliver a speech that is direct, easily intelligible but never simplistic or condescending, it's worth noting. A good thing, too, that he did it on such an important topic.

The key questions Rudd addresses: 'Can the dissonant values, aspirations and interests of the United States, China and the rest of Asia be managed, embraced or even reconciled in the decade ahead?'

For all the strengths of the speech, I'm not certain the answer he offers — Asian regionalism that embraces all the major players, in the form of the newly expanded East Asia Summit — convinces even Rudd himself:

Major differences in the respective national interests and values systems of China and the United States will, however, be with us for the foreseeable future...If a common strategic vision ultimately proves to be elusive between the United States and China, then common strategic co-existence within the framework of agreed norms should not.

Rudd is quite right that summitry of the kind he endorses is 'itself inherently normalising' and can 'build transparency, confidence and trust'. And to those who measure the utility of international fora by the number of concrete agreements they achieve, Rudd has this important reminder: 'The concept of common security is as much a habit as it is a concrete doctrine on a set of specific actions.'

Yet none of that will make much of a difference if the main players are not prepared to make concessions and curb their ambitions for the sake of the greater good, and this is perhaps where, for defensible political reasons, Rudd's speech falls silent. Yet the question is still out there: given that their national interests are in many ways incompatible, what are China and the US prepared to give up for the sake of regional peace?