Interview on CNN with Christiane Amanpour

11 November 2014 – CNN

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST (voice-over): Tonight: breaking the ice in Beijing. Australia’s former prime minister, Kevin Rudd, tells me that China and the United States have a tough line to tread.


KEVIN RUDD, FORMER PRIME MINISTER OF AUSTRALIA: How do you manage to conduct a relationship between an existing and established great power, namely the United States, and a rising power, namely China, in a manner which does not result in inevitable conflict and war?

AMANPOUR: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I’m Christiane Amanpour.

It is the biggest gathering of world leaders in China since the 2008 Beijing Olympics and it’s China’s chance to flex some global muscle. The

two most watched figures at this APEC Summit are, of course, the Chinese president, Xi Jinping and the U.S. president, Barack Obama. The two powers still vying for supremacy in the Pacific.

President Obama is still pushing for a Pacific Rim trade deal but perhaps the summit’s biggest success is the handshake between the Chinese president
and the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, as my guest tonight, former Australian prime minister, Kevin Rudd, tells us.

But he also says the U.S. and China must develop some constructive realm in order to manage tensions in some areas and work together in others. In his words, if China does become the undisputed world’s largest economy, it will be the first time since King George III that a non-English speaking, non-Western, non-democratic country has led the global economy.

And with the summit in full swing, Rudd joined me from Dubai to discuss the shape of relations with a nation whose rise he called without precedent in modern history.


AMANPOUR: Mr. Rudd, welcome to the program. Thanks for joining us.

RUDD: Good to be on the program.

AMANPOUR: How do you assess the APEC Summit so far?

Success or not?

RUDD: Well, given that it’s more than a year now since there’s been a substantial meeting of any length between President Obama and Xi Jinping, that is a good opportunity to discuss the relationship of the century and its future.

And at a second level, this provided an opportunity for the beginnings of some level of normalization in the China-Japan relationship. So against those two benchmarks, I think so far, so good.

But as you know, one swallow doth not a summer make.

AMANPOUR: What do you think regarding President Obama having gone to China at a time of that political drubbing during the midterms?

Would Xi be wise to think of President Obama as sort of like the autumn of the patriarch, so to speak?

RUDD: I think the bottom line is the Chinese, whether it’s under President Xi Jinping or his predecessors, back through Jiang Zemin, back through Hu Jintao and back to Deng Xiaoping and before, have always taken U.S. presidents seriously.

That is, that they’ve seen Republicans and Democrats come and go. They’ve seen them in good political seasons and in bad. The key thing is the core strategic content of the relationship.

And can you construct this relationship between the two largest economies in the world in a manner which preserves the peace and stability of East Asia into the remaining decades of the century?

AMANPOUR: Well, can you?

You have now got a very important new position where you are studying this. And you obviously have decades of your own experience with China. You speak Mandarin fluently. You have talked about a new constructive realism.

What exactly does that mean?

RUDD: What I argue is pretty simple. One: a framework which acknowledges in realist terms, in realistic terms, the fact that there are certain, at this stage, irreconcilable bottom lines. They are countries with different political value systems. They’re countries with different geopolitical interests in parts of Asia.

But secondly, it’s not an exclusively realist relationship which is destined towards conflict. There are constructive elements of the relationship where there’s sufficient commonality, sufficient commonality of interests and values for the two countries to really do good things

together bilaterally, regionally and globally.

AMANPOUR: Well, let’s talk about one of those when it comes to security. Obviously the United States heavily implicated and involved in its ally,

Japan, in the region and that whole dispute between Japan and China over those islands in the South China Sea.

We all saw this rather strained handshake between President Xi and Prime Minister Abe at the beginning of the summit.

Has anything been achieved?

Or is just that handshake itself significant?

RUDD: Well, I think it’s six months of diplomacy, which lie behind that handshake. Let’s be very realistic about it. The Japan-China relationship, as of six months ago, was probably in the worst condition it’s been in since the normalization of diplomatic relations way back in the early ’70s.

And so both sides, I believe, recognize that it was not in either of their interests to risk, A, the possibility of conflict and, B, they had more to gain in fact by removing political obstacles which currently exist to the further expansion of the Japan-China economic relationship.

And the meeting between the two, however difficult that was, was the formalization of the beginnings of a renormalization.


AMANPOUR: But what exactly —

RUDD: Everyone should be modestly happy with that.

AMANPOUR: — modestly happy, but what exactly does it mean? Because they say we agree to disagree. There is still a dispute over the claim of it.

RUDD: I think there is probably two or three elements to that, Christiane. The first is that Boze was telling us (ph) closely will tell you the number of military and naval assets deployed by both sides to this disputed area is now being decreased in the last several months rather than being increased.

Secondly, there are early discussions underway in terms of a hotline between the two militaries about how you can manage an incident if it were to occur through the accidental collision of aircraft or ships at sea rather than just have uncontrolled incident escalation.

And I think the other thing to bear in mind is that both sides have worked out, with a weak Japanese economy right now and slowing growth in China, it makes sense, common sense, for them to open the economic doors to each other more comprehensively.

So I think — I think — we’ve made a turning point. It doesn’t solve the problem. But, frankly, with this dispute, it’s far best to kick the can down the road to the long-term future rather than having been the absolute zero-sum game focus, which we’ve had for the last couple of years.

AMANPOUR: You talk about the relative economies between the two. And of course, President Obama goes to China as its economy is kind of sluggish a little bit, while the U.S. economy is picking up steam. That surely must make an impression on Xi as well.

RUDD: Well, I think that’s a very key observation, Christiane, for this sense. The Chinese, a year or so ago, may have been reaching conclusions that the U.S. was never going to exit the vortex which it descended into after the global financial crisis. Well, that level of Chinese skepticism, I think, has disappeared in the last six months or so.

So I believe that as this meeting occurs, there will be a sense of some mutual respect about the respective state of their economies and remember momentarily the U.S. remains the vastly dominant economic power in the region still, despite the Chinese military modernization program.

AMANPOUR: So what is your assessment? China is obviously a regional power. It actually doesn’t have a huge number of friends and allies unless you count North Korea. Is it going to be, anytime soon, a global power?

And attached to that question, who is President Xi? He was described by the “FT” as “Xi talks like Deng Xiaoping, who opened China up to the world, but acts like Mao Zedong,” of course, the Communist dictator strongman. Who is this man? And should we be concerned about him?

RUDD: Well, President Xi Jinping — and I’ve had the privilege of spending some time with him in various capacities over the years in a number of conversations — he is first and foremost a person who is deeply committed to the future role of the Communist Party in China.

People should not see the — his leadership as meaning that he’s simply preparing a political transition to some other form of political administration. He’s not. That’s why he’s launched this massive anti- corruption campaign, in order to restore the party’s credibility in the eyes of the Chinese people.

I think the other thing to know about President Xi Jinping is that he has a profound nationalist vision, which is all about — to use the Chinese word — China’s restoration of its — of its former national greatness, its foshing (ph), the return of China to the way in which it was in earlier periods in history. And they’re right now in a profound reengineering of the structure of the Chinese economy, and for him that is the long-term basis of Chinese power, a properly functioning economy.

So he’s a person with a defined mission, a clear sense of how he intends to get there. But frankly, it’s probably the most complex job that any head of government has anywhere in the world today.

AMANPOUR: Fascinating stuff. And just finally, obviously I note that it is Australia that launched and started the APEC Summit 25 years ago. So do we have you to thank for those silly suits? Have the suits gone too far?

RUDD: Well, we had APEC in Australia not too many years ago and we confined ourself (sic) to a couple of sort of overcoats, bush overcoats, to wear when you’re out in the Australian outback. It’s just Asia. That’s what we do out there. Everyone should relax. It’s fine. It takes the edge off some of these occasions.

The core thing, though, is frankly that prior to APEC being around, Christiane, it’s worth remembering there was no regular forum in Asia at all for heads of government to get together. If it means wearing silly pajamas, which I’ve had to wear in the past, fine. That’s just life.

The core thing is you’re getting together. And as Churchill always said, it’s better to jaw, jaw, jaw than to war, war, war, even if you’re wearing slightly exotic outfits on the day.

AMANPOUR: How right you are. Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, thank you so much for joining me.

RUDD: Thank you for having me on the program.