Has Kevin Rudd betrayed China-Australia relations?: Global Times editorial
Published: May 30, 2021 02:08 PM
Former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd speaks at the China Development Forum (CDF) Economic Summit in Beijing, March 24, 2018. Photo: Xinhua

Former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd speaks at the China Development Forum (CDF) Economic Summit in Beijing, March 24, 2018. Photo: Xinhua

Has former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd changed his tune? According to BBC, Rudd said in an interview last Friday that countries should unite against China's growing economic and geopolitical coercion or risk being singled out and punished by Beijing. He also criticized the current Australian government's China policy, stating that it, "has from time to time been measured - but other times, frankly, has been rhetorical and shrill." However, his remarks still sound quite hawkish, and they contradict the Chinese people's previous impression of him as a politician who understands and befriends China.

Rudd's change of tune is not an isolated case. For some time now, we have witnessed the West and some US allies in the Asia-Pacific region adjusting their attitude toward China, officially or not. For instance, the EU has launched sanctions against China for the first time after more than 30 years. Japan and South Korea have mentioned the Taiwan question in their joint statement with the US as never before. French warships have come to the East China Sea to engage in symbolic joint military exercises with the US and Japan. Germany and other countries have taken a harsher attitude toward Chinese tech company Huawei. The list goes on.

But these moves are telling and allow us to analyze and strategize. 

Returning to Rudd, first of all, how should we interpret his change of tune? Does it mean that he somehow "betrayed" China? It should be pointed out that he has never truly stood by China's side. Rudd is a politician whose behaviors and actions serve the interests of himself as well as his party. The political system of Western countries, for example, the US and Australia, plays the biggest role in advancing these interests.

Yet it is in Canberra's interest to develop mutually beneficial cooperation with Beijing and to safeguard a relevant political environment. However, Australia's conservative government has fully tilted in favor of the US to confront China. This has caused some controversy in the country. Therefore, this might be why Rudd used to express rational statements toward China.

But what Rudd said in the interview with BBC sends two signals. One is that Australia feels more and more uncomfortable about China's counterattack against its provocations. The second is that the West's US-led anti-China campaign has caused such a big influence that a "political correctness" has emerged in the ideology of the West. Rudd is catering to these two sentiments and trends to create a political balance between himself and the Australian Labor Party.

We need to understand that we should make friends in the West, but we cannot count on them to go against the general environment there to call for justice when China is being unjustly suppressed. Most Western people and forces will submit to such "political correctness."

Regardless, we need to have the confidence that most Western countries, political forces, companies and influential figures will not become an "enemy" of China in the traditional sense. We must realize that the anti-China forces with extreme hostility are only a small percentage of Western populations. The majority of countries, forces and even individuals swing from side to side: sometimes they follow the US' steps to suppress us, sometimes they speak and act independently, which is beneficial to China.

In the short term, as Washington's pressure on China becomes stronger and the Western ideological anti-China front takes shape, we will see this pattern: more Western countries and forces will shift their stance toward the US. In the long run, if China's power continues to grow, and if our strategy to destroy Washington's attempt to build an anti-China front is accurate and effective, then the West's attitude toward China will gradually change in our favor.

We should not try to identify who is our enemy and who is our friend. Making such a distinction should not be how today's Chinese society thinks. As the second-largest power in the world strongly suppressed by the biggest power, China needs a strong will and a strong heart. We have few real "deadly enemies." Most of the forces in the world are willing to be our friends and partners because it is in their interest to do so. But many of them need to balance the pressure from Washington and make compromises according to their political, security and economic dependence on the country.

Neither China nor the US is bold enough to make Washington's allies choose between the two. But Washington will use its various levers to coerce those countries to give it maximum support, and even to demand them to pick a side at some point. On the contrary, Beijing has relatively few bargaining chips. So in the short term, it is inevitable to stay in a passive position.

At this time, we cannot act on impulse and equate some countries and forces with the US only because they have followed Washington to raise their voices on issues such as Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Taiwan and the South China Sea. 

On the other hand, we have to fight back by exerting our influence over these countries. We cannot allow other countries and forces to harm China's interests as the US does. We must motivate them to increase their resistance to unreasonable pressure from Washington to preserve long-term relations with us.

This is a difficult game to play, and needs wisdom. Rudd tried to please the US by advocating an anti-China club, and this, of course, has upset the Chinese public. It has also become a blot on his image in China. He may gain a little more from the US side by doing that, but it will also weaken the favorable impression and trust some Chinese institutions and groups had toward him.

Nevertheless, we don't need to define our relationship with him clearly as either friend or foe. We need to maintain a certain kind of flexibility and be clear about the logic in such flexibility. And let Rudd grasp the difference in the temperature of our attitude toward him.