Australia gets its Mandarin-speaking, China expert prime minister back

…at least until mid-September, when Labor party leader Kevin Rudd faces off against the slightly more China-wary Liberal Party leader Tony Abbott in the Federal Election.

Kevin Rudd’s comments to US Sec’y of State Hillary Clinton were released in the Wikileaks Cablegate data dump. In them Rudd said nations should integrate China into the international community, ”while also preparing to deploy force if everything goes wrong”.

I wonder if the PRC will welcome the leadership change in Australia. They certainly know Kevin.


North Korea, China – what to think, when to panic

Soldiers march past the podium during a military parade in Pyongyang (Reuters)

A couple things on the latest tensions

Despite the endless escalation of rhetoric and military preparations between North Korea and South Korea with the US, as of March 29, the joint South-Noth venture called the Kaesong Industrial Complex was still operational, which has led some to believe Kim Jong-un is still only indulging in high-octane rhetoric. For now.

But clearly, no one will be happy if North Korea’s recent string of threats becomes the norm.

The big question many people are asking themselves is: where is China in all of this?

After all, isn’t China the biggest benefactor of North Korea?

Hasn’t trade escalated between North Korea and China even after UN sanctions?

Hasn’t China looked the other way with North Korea, as long as it was a foil for the US in North Asia?

Isn’t China suspected of selling mobile missile launchers to North Korea as recently as 2012?

Of all the nations in the Six Party talks, China stands out as the most directly influential.
Now, with the media on red alert and politicians watching fearfully, some are daring to speak the unspeakable regarding China and North Korea.

One such politician is Australia’s ex-prime minister Kevin Rudd, who, while giving his usual boilerplate about Pax Pacific to an audience of Chinese military elite Thursday added some straight-talk on China-North Korea.

As always, Rudd is among the most insightful voices on China.

Not only is he a long-time scholar of Chinese history, a speaker of the language, an ex-diplomat who has the ear of policymakers in Washington and elsewhere, Rudd has also contended with China as a prime minister of a nation in the region. So he’s worth listening to.

Rudd, in the speech to the National Defence University of China made a few points about the China-North Korea relationship and what it means to US-China relations.

Says Kevin:

Primo) The US and its allies (Japan, South Korea, and possibly even Australia among others) would have every reason to build up their missile defense to counter North Korea’s threat – and this will further hem China in and frustrate their military’s expansion.

Of itself it is a reflection of profound strategic mistrust towards North Korea. For many it also represents an entirely rational response to a real and growing threat. Such ballistic missile defence cooperation also of course has wider implications for China’s national and security interests beyond the Korean Peninsula.”

Secondo) And this is key: The world outside the region will hold China responsible because of North Korea’s military adventures.

“China’s own global foreign policy standing is suffering and will continue to suffer as a result of North Korean adventurism.”

Terzo) South Korea may finally tire of this festering threat and be forced to take action “given the enormous political pressures within South Korea’s democracy to respond robustly to any future North Korean provocation.”

Pointedly Rudd says:

“For these reasons the international community will be looking more and more to Beijing, in view of its significance as a major supplier of food and energy to the Korean people, for a new diplomacy towards Pyongyang, given that all other diplomacies from other countries have so far demonstrably failed.”

But will a new diplomacy come? Rudd acknowledges a more vocal debate in China about how to handle North Korea. But is it debate at a certain level happening beneath the inertia at a higher level where the ultimate decisions are made?

That presupposes civilian policymakers in Beijing have total control over the Chinese side of the issue.

The article raises serious questions about the civilian control of the Chinese military, which has real implication for what’s happening with North Korea. Even if civilian leader Xi Jinping, who is supposed to be in control of the PLA, wants a different line on North Korea than in the past, there is on guarantee that Xi can achieve that.

In effect, if the PLA wants to give missile launchers to North Korea’s army, the civilian leadership of China can’t stop it.

This gap between civilian and military control of the PLA also exacerbates China’s disputes with its neighbors, as it makes it harder to know who is issuing orders in China when tensions flare.

Yet another possibility is that China is willing to act on North Korea but is paralyzed by the challenge it presents because China itself an doesn’t have the diplomatic or strategic vision to try to guide the situation.

In that scenario, Seton Hall University professor Zheng Wang may be right in concluding Chinese foreign policy, while appearing domineering and threatening, “is actually ambivalent, even weak.”

In any case, the status quo of North Korea’s threats and aggression can’t last.

If there is no new diplomatic approach by China to North Korea, then outsiders – led by the Americans – will conclude that an erratic, threatening North Korea serves the long-term goal of trying to flush the US out of East Asia.

And if that becomes clear, a lot of this talk about how you can’t compare the historical Cold War to the situation today will evaporate further. People – particularly in the US – will wonder aloud why they continue to bankroll through trade a country that clearly resents them, disrespects their laws, and their role in the world. Yes, cross-border trade will not dry up because of this – as it shouldn’t. But politicians, consumers and citizens in the US and West, will stop seeing China as developing country experiencing growing pains and see it as the long-term strategic challenge/threat that it is increasingly becoming.

Former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd has laid out a compelling assessment of where China-US relations stand, and the contradictions and preoccupations of both sides.

Chinese-speaking Rudd is a long-time student of China, with deep contacts in the nation. At the same time, he has risen to the top of politics as a Labor prime minister in Australia, serving from 2007 until a leadership change in the Labor Party in 2010. His insight into the systems and worldviews of the West and East make him one of the better minds to follow on subject of China’s rise. Sure, he looks like a dentist, but he speaks like a particularly broad-minded diplomat. And his suggestions for a Pax Pacifica are to my knowledge just what is needed at this critical time in geo-politics.

While sounding a pessimistic note (“I have studied the relationship between [China and Japan] for all of my professional life. But I have never seen it as bad as this.”) in the speech in Beijing, Rudd gives an unvarnished views of how China, the US, and the rest of Asia’s views China’s rise. In fact, if you are just coming in to the issue of heightened tensions in East Asia, it’s definitely worth a read.

But Rudd’s otherwise deft analysis falls down when he says.

what we tend to see as the general trend across Asia is two competing forces at work. One is the force of globalisation. The second is the force of nationalism. The force of globalisation brings economies, peoples and countries closer together. The forces of nationalism tend to tear economies, peoples and countries apart. Globalisation is the force of the 21st century. Nationalism is the leftover force of the 19th and 20th centuries. Globalisation has become a positive force. Nationalism has increasingly become a negative force. And nationalism is spreading across Asia.

In as much as globalisation is a global trend, Rudd’s description of it smacks of 1997-era business utopianism, which has been discredited – although not so much in Australia where the economy is relatively strong.

Elsewhere, after the bank failures and the financial crisis, not to mention slumping household income, it’s hard to see globalisation as anything but the precursor to the current crisis. So it is simplistic to say globalisation is a “positive force” that brings countries together. Globalisation may unite countries “on paper” smearing together economies across political borders, but it if the experiment in globalisation in the past 30 years is anything to go by, it’s fair to say it causes plenty of division within nations – both developed and developing.

For people with the means, cross-border trade and investment creates previously unimaginable opportunity. For those without the means, or those who unable or unwilling to engage the world over the border, globalisation has left them behind. This would also be true in Asia, I would suspect.

And it’s this reality on this new disparity of wealth in the US and Europe that will be animating politics in those regions for some time to come. So it’s worth bearing that in mind, when describing the American and European public’s view of China’s rise, that Beijing’s growth has occurred as the middle class in the US has floundered, raising the risk of further social and political disorder.

Where globalised capitalism hasn’t helped drive income inequality, it has freed up migration flows creating social strains between new and existing populations, particularly during recessions. This has happened in the US and Europe.

Francis Fukuyama published a piece last year on liberal democracy’s decline in the time of globalisation.

The takeaway from that piece: the current form of globalized capitalism is eroding the middle-class social base on which liberal democracy rests.

While nationalism is clearly on the rise in Asia, I wouldn’t doubt if a more considered approach to globalisation takes hold in countries of the West. Where there are elements of nationalism increasing in Europe (think: Greece, for example), in the US, it’s the reemergence of the citizen activist, seeking to impose rules and laws on the excesses of the private sector.

But don’t let any of this prevent you from reading up Rudd’s unique take on Where Things Stand, especially if you are living in China or the US.

Ex-PM of Australia speaks out on US-China risks