Australia: Labor leader well-placed to pounce on any China slips

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sat Dec 9 14:07:13 UTC 2006

A Labor leader well-placed to pounce on any China slips

December 9, 2006

ALREADY in his first week as Opposition Leader, Kevin Rudd has had a lot
of accusations flung at him by the Government. At some stage, we can
probably expect to have his expertise on China and fluency in Mandarin
turned against him, showing him as a policy wonk, if not as some kind of
Manchurian candidate. It's not often - perhaps never - that Australia has
had a candidate for the prime ministership able to deliver a speech in any
foreign language, let along Chinese, as Rudd has done at the Central Party
School, Beijing's top management academy for its rising cadres. To her
credit, Amanda Vanstone, on the Government side, has worked away at her
Chinese studies and doggedly read a prepared speech in Beijing - to an
audience largely mystified by her tones.

Rudd's web of guanxi (personal connections) in China would help him on
some occasions, and perhaps inhibit him on others when tough talking is
required. His knowledge of China and foreign policy could enable him to
set Government tripwires in its management of relations with Beijing and
Washington. The opportunities of the Chinese market and growth of
Beijing's role in world affairs has required Australia to balance this
against its alliance with the US. After some clumsiness in 1996-97, John
Howard's Government has recovered the trust of Beijing by stressing it
wants to engage rather than isolate China.

This has been helped by the US President, George Bush, deciding on much
the same approach, despite the intense suspicion towards Beijing among
some neo-conservative policymakers in his team. Whoever won the 2000
election was going to follow a blueprint for Asian policy worked out in
1999 by a panel under Richard Armitage and the academic Joseph Nye. By
strengthening America's existing links with Japan and Australia, and
bringing in India, the US would be better placed to engage China. It was
not containment, said Michael Green, a top Bush adviser on Asia in the
National Security Council.

"We wanted to change China before China changed the world," Green told an
Australian audience by videolink this week. But frequent
"misunderstandings" occurred between Canberra and Washington, said Green,
who moved to a Japan chair at Georgetown University last December.
Essentially, he accused the Howard Government of trying to be nice to
Beijing all the time when the US expected it to stand up against Chinese
interests. Japan had quietly factored Taiwan into its defence policy in a
way that made China consider its potential role in a conflict, and had
openly backed US diplomatic actions to maintain the Taiwan Strait balance,
Green said. In December 2003 Japan's representative in Taipei had given a
speech supporting Bush's pointed rebuke of the Taiwanese President, Chen
Shui-bian, for talking up independence for the island republic.

"Japan is an important player in the Taiwan Strait calculation," Green
said. "To be very frank, I'd like to see Australia play more of a role in
that as well. I think the Australian Government has begun to, but there
has sometimes, in my view, in the past been a view that Washington has a
kind of unsubtly anti-China, pro-Taiwan policy and Canberra's stayed out
of things frequently. Even such close allies as the United States and
Australia sometimes didn't "completely understand" each other's China and
Taiwan policies, Green said. "I think John Howard and George Bush
understand each other, and a few key officials in governments understand
each other. But to be very frank I've been struck by how the American and
Australian academic communities and public policy communities haven't
really completely understood each other's China policies."

He suggested this was a prime topic for the US studies institute being set
up with lavish funding by the Federal Government at the University of
Sydney. "Clearly one of the areas where the US and Australia should be
comparing notes is how we do China, because I think we misunderstand each
other frequently on this front," Green said. Taiwan, described by one
former Canberra analyst this week as "the 800-pound gorilla in the room"
for Asia, has caused friction with Washington for Howard before. It is a
policy minefield for an over-confident or under-briefed leader, and Rudd
is well-placed to make use of any slips.


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