Walk the Talk Interview with Shekhar Gupta

13 Feb 2015

NDTV – Delhi


SHEKHAR GUPTA: Hello and welcome to Walk The Talk, I’m Shekhar Gupta, in the compound of the Australian High Commission in Delhi, and my guest today, the only gentleman to have been elected Prime Minister of Australia twice after ’49, but even more than that now a global statesman, and a peacemaker on issues ranging as widely as from climate change to old fashioned peace. Mr Kevin Rudd, welcome to Walk The Talk, what a privilege.

KEVIN RUDD: Thank you. We’ll bring peace to the cricket field as well.

GUPTA: I’m not promising that to you. That’s not the reason people pay a lot of money to watch us play.

RUDD: World Cup. World Cup’s coming out so what do you bet for an India and Australia final? Is betting legal in India?
GUPTA: Betting is not legal in India, but even I can bet like this.  You and I can bet a beer.

RUDD: I’ll bet you two beers.

GUPTA: Two beers. India-Australia final? In that case I’ll bet anything that we are winning.

RUDD: Well, I’ll go the other way. It’s two beers.

GUPTA: That’s one way one of us can win.

RUDD: That’s true, that’s true. Okay, so you’re the witnesses, the viewing public.

GUPTA: And I asked you this before I started, how do I address you?

RUDD: Kevin

GUPTA: And you said Kevin and I said that might be inappropriate. And you said I don’t care, I’m Australian.

RUDD: That’s true. That’s true.

GUPTA: So what makes an Australian so different? An Australian, if I say it correctly. This is Australia’s soil, in a way.

RUDD: Yes, yes. Well, first of all, your attempt to try our Australian accent is really bad. I don’t think anyone can do an Australian accent. It’s a great mix. So what are Australians? Well, without being politically correct Australians are indigenous people, I respect them enormously.

GUPTA: Whom you gave an institutional national apology to when you became Prime Minister?

RUDD: It was the first thing I did as a Prime Minister.

GUPTA: It was cathartic.

RUDD: Well it was necessary. We’ve been 200 years late in doing it. And white Australians have treated indigenous Australians appallingly. You just have to acknowledge the reality.

GUPTA: I still see your internet stuff floating with pictures of human beings in chains saying they were classified as flora and fauna, is it actually true?

RUDD: Look the history is diverse, but the indigenous people, with very rare exceptions, were treated appallingly, and then there was this whole series of generations through a large part of the 20th century, who literally were stolen from their parents, that is taken into custody, put into institutions or white Australian families. Many of these folks are still alive so…

GUPTA: And that’s why your apology was the apology for lost generations, stolen generations.

RUDD: Yes, and through them, to indigenous Australians overall. So, they’re the first Australians, we folks, we’re very latecomers.  And what unites India and Australia is our common relationship with the British, which is problematic.

GUPTA: Well at least it gave us cricket.

Kevin Rudd: Close but problematic.

GUPTA: Yes, but you and me were defined differently. You were still, sort of, British would come to the most distant part of the world possible.

RUDD: Yes but think about it in those times. That’s why I think Australians are a bit different. Even Nehru, you may or may not know this, but the first Non-Aligned Movement in Delhi, he extended an invitation to Australia to come as an observer. He was very welcoming, because I think he saw it a little different, because not withstanding European pedigree…

GUPTA: He saw you as Asian in a way.

RUDD: We were ourselves not colonisers. In the case of Australians, unlike New Zealanders, it’s different again because half of us are criminals and would still say so, well, there’s those New Zealanders…

GUPTA: And we’ll call you anything if you beat us in that World Cup Final, otherwise you’re okay. You’re a decent folk.

RUDD: But if you come from quite the English underclass, as most of us did in history, then we don’t have any inbuilt sense of, frankly, superiority. And that I think makes us a little different. And most of those who’ve come to Australia as migrants, like Indian Australians, they’ve all come there often with poor backgrounds and have made their lives.

GUPTA: And a lot of Chinese now, a lot a lot of Chinese.

RUDD: Yes, we have about a million Chinese, half a billion Indians, and we come from everywhere, about a 109 different ethnicities.

GUPTA: Because in my very inadequate introduction, I did not quite yet mention, among a million accomplishments, the most significant one from our point of view in India, which is your scholarship on China, and your knowledge of the language, even your PhD was in Chinese democracy movement.

RUDD: Well, I didn’t quite do a PhD but my thesis in University was on China, Chinese Politics and Human Rights, but yes, I spent five years at university studying Chinese, so I have to say publicly on Indian television, I don’t speak a word of Hindi and I’m very sorry about that.

GUPTA: And you speak Chinese like a Chinese?

RUDD: Well, it comes and goes. I find my Chinese better after I’ve had a few drinks.

GUPTA: … over a multi-course Chinese meal. But you even have a Chinese name I noticed, Lukewen, K-E-W-E-N.

RUDD: Yes that’s the Kevin bit. It’s two Characters. ‘Ka’ means to overcome. And ‘Ven’ means literature or the classics. So I had this very ambitious teacher…

GUPTA: So, you’re the over-comer of the classics.

RUDD: That’s right. So my first year university teacher who is a Chinese herself, said to me, Mr. Rudd, you’ll overcome the classics. 35 years later, no

GUPTA: But you’re trying. And Lu?

RUDD: It’s a family name, the Chinese have a 140 fixed family names and nothing even approximates Rudd, so Lu, is about the closest.

GUPTA: And if we were to give you an Indian name, we would have given you Gupta, Sharma, Singh, one of those.

RUDD: I see myself probably as a Gupta. Yes I’ll be a Gupta.

GUPTA: A Gupta? You’ll make a good Gupta. Having said that, what does India make of Chinese troops causing a provocation every time a prominent Chinese leader comes to India or a prominent Indian leader goes to China? What are the Chinese telling us, do you buy this argument that maybe PLA could be doing it on their own?

RUDD: Well, one of the great virtues of not being the Prime Minister of Australia is that I have no access to Intelligence, so I cannot make an independent observation about what the Chinese troops are or are not doing in your disputed border territories, in both large sections of that. But I think, what I know of the Chinese is that they have a defined and continuing sense of their territorial claims, continental, just essentially the border with you and Nepal unresolved, and the maritime claims as well.

GUPTA: That’s Vietnam, Japan, and..

RUDD: Well, frankly if you get around the loop it’s 6 or 7. If you start with disputes with Japan, and then of course you’ve got the internal Chinese disputes with Taiwan, and then you’ve got South East Asia, the Philippines and Vietnam, being the biggest intersecting maritime claims and then in addition to that Indonesia and Malaysia-Brunei. So it’s quite a lot. On the continental borders there, there’s 14 of them, China has the largest number of land boundaries with other countries, of any country in the world.

GUPTA: Unresolved …

RUDD: No, except Russia, Russia has 14 boundaries as well. But on the land boundaries, China only has 2 unresolved. India and Nepal.

GUPTA: Which are linked in a way.

RUDD: Well, that’s right. There’s a pretty good history to it. I would hope, I mean, Deng Xiaoping would have said something like this, I hope with the fullness of time, with the material here of judgement and with the intelligence of future generations…

GUPTA: I think he said that, this generation does not have the wisdom to resolve this, let’s leave it to wiser generations.

RUDD: Although I do know that Deng Xiaoping decided that he couldn’t leave it to another generation with Russia.

GUPTA: And he settled it.

Kevin Rudd: And he settled it. And if you think of…

GUPTA: Is that what Mr Modi should be telling?

RUDD: You know, the first thing that visiting Australian politicians do not do is give lectures to the Prime Minister of the country.

GUPTA: You’re now an academic, Harvard University

RUDD: Yes, that’s true. Harvard Kennedy School. They’ve been very kind to me. And I think that …

GUPTA: And wearing the Asia Society Badge

RUDD: And wearing my Asia Society badge, as President of the Asia Society Policy Institute, New York. I think there must be a way through this border dispute. Because I think my friends from Delhi and China would ultimately welcome an opportunity to settle it. On a specific formula, I can’t provide guidance, but what I do know is this, Xi Jinping is a very hands-on leader

GUPTA: And very powerful!

RUDD: He’s certainly very powerful. He’s certainly the most powerful leader since Deng and definitely since Mao. And what I have known of him, in my dealings with him when I was in office, is that he will think, he will reflect, he will decide and he will act. So, if there are core things to be dealt with in India-China relations, and I’ve not met Mr Modi, but what I’ve observed is that he is a very decisive leader. Then I think this could be a relationship.

GUPTA: This is a good time. And this is a wise enough generation. So Deng Xiaoping said, he told RajIv Gandhi that let’s wait for a wiser generation, do you think the wiser generation is here?

RUDD: I’m no judge of wisdom, remember I’m Australian, but I could make a slight observation from this side is that these two individuals have a very strong domestic political positions. Prime Minister Modi has won, what we describe as a thumping win, in the last elections here, his political position is entrenched.

GUPTA: For the first time in 30 years an Indian Party to win a majority.

RUDD: That’s right. And the world knows that, the Chinese know that. And Xi Jinping, the consolidation of his leadership in the last two years in the Chinese Communist Party has been formidable. So these two individuals have extraordinary authorities in their respective systems of government. So if it’s possible to reach a basis for a landing point on the border dispute, which has plagued this relationship for far too long, and as you know, historically, there was too much bloodshed in the early 60s, and the fracturing of the great relationship that existed in the 50s; I think these two individuals have it within their political personalities, to possibly find a way through. Personally, as someone who has always wanted to see peace in our great continent of Asia and those of us who hang off at the sides of it, like us Australians, we’d like to see a deep reconciliation with China and India over time as well. But it’s tough.

GUPTA: We’re trying to teach the Chinese to play cricket. Which may not be such a good idea going ahead, because they’ll win everything.

RUDD: Someone told me. I don’t know; I used to play cricket when I was in the embassy in Beijing, I am terrible at cricket.

GUPTA: You must be the only Australian who is terrible at cricket.

RUDD: No the only one who’s honest at least about that.  So here is my level of enthusiasm for the game of cricket and here is my level of ability. There is a considerable gap between the two.

GUPTA: That’s a billion plus Indians, don’t worry, including me.

RUDD: Every year in Beijing, Peking we call in most states, we’d have a ground a bit like this, not far from the Temple of Heaven, the grudge match between us and the British Embassy, which is called the Tianjin Cup. And my only sporting boast in history is coming in at number ten, because that’s where my batting skills lie. I managed to hit a four on the last ball to win the game.

GUPTA: I see, so that was Ashes in China.

RUDD: That’s right. And we won. And there’s nothing better than beating the British. You know that

GUPTA: On that note, yes, absolutely. Anyway, you play the British we back Australia.

RUDD: You play the English we back India.

GUPTA: Absolutely. In fact I remember once that the UK High Commissioner once said to me that look, time has now come for India-England to play a series every 6 months, one in India, one in England. So I said, then we’ll beat you all the time. So he said, do I care? I’m Scottish. So Englishmen they’re happy to even subvert the Scottish.

RUDD: But someone told me recently, I don’t know whether this is true, that the Chinese have organised a bunch of professional cricket coaches

GUPTA: Yes absolutely. And some have gone from India.

RUDD: And started training local Chinese teams.

GUPTA: Yes, I think it’s an anti-national act. All cricket playing countries should get together and align forces.

RUDD: But it’s hilarious isn’t it, to think that one time we could be scalded by the Chinese on a cricket field

GUPTA: Absolutely. Real Chinamen bowling a Chinaman. But having said that, while India and Australia need to join forces to keep the Chinese threat away from cricket, to fight it off, what else do India and Australia do together? This is a very unrealised relationship.

RUDD: As Prime Minister I worked a bit with Prime Minister Singh and we made some progress.

GUPTA: Towards an FTA also.

RUDD: Well, I did two things with the Prime Minister of the time. Number one is we resolved the nuclear issue. We were in Government, and it was difficult for us, because of our historical deep commitment to Non Proliferation trading. But, recognising India’s history, its democracy and its consistent application of NPT principles, we made that exception, so that removed a very large impediment from the relationship. And the second thing is, with Prime Minster Singh, initiated the Free Trade Agreement and Negotiations. And they have taken some time, they’ve been through five rounds so far, I’ll simply say to my Indian friends, it took us nineteen rounds with the Chinese. And we finally landed it with China, at the end of last year, after a very long process.

GUPTA: But we are more reasonable than the Chinese because Mr Vajpayee once said to me that look, when somebody bargains or negotiates with us, that give it, give it, give it, finally okay, take it or at least take some of it. The Chinese never say it.

RUDD: Well, they’re tough negotiators but here’s the interesting thing, President Xi Jinping, because he was attending the G20 in Australia, at the end of last year that was the deadline he set. And suddenly, we find that his hands were on the negotiation in order to land a decent compromise.

GUPTA: And I’m glad that at least now India and Australia are talking a lot more.

Kevin Rudd: Well, I think the whole relationship is opening up. Seasoned observers of this relationship will say that, I think since my time, and since we opened up the nuclear door, and opened up the FDI door, and opened up our security dialogue door, it has really matured.

GUPTA: And now you also see the climate change door opening.

RUDD: Well, I spoke on this, this morning. It was the Delhi Sustainability Summit, where both myself and the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius spoke as well. But what I think is very encouraging for us is the language which we see emerge from Prime Minister Modi during President Obama’s visit about India wanting to see a global agreement in Paris. That is very important for India, it’s very important for Asia, it’s very important for China and it’s very important for the world.

GUPTA: And it’s very important for the India-Australia relationship also because you have a big commitment too. Because among the first things you did when you became the Prime Minister was to sign the Kyoto Protocol.

RUDD: Yes, I think I did it that weekend.

GUPTA: That weekend, yes.

RUDD: So I was a bit surprised. I went up to Bali, there was a big climate change conference on and signed it. And I hadn’t realised how much Australia had been seen as a global pariah until I saw it raised.

GUPTA: And there’s an opportunity now for India also and for Mr Modi also.

RUDD: I think the great thing is number one climate change action is actually good for sustainable development and good for jobs. Massive investment in renewable energy; massive investment in energy efficiency technologies and as a consequence you create a whole series of new economic opportunities, which can subsist people. The old equation that was either climate change action or economic development is a false dichotomy. These things are a part of the one reality, which is that climate change action is a part of the sustainable economic development, which in fact leads to better growth over time. So I really, I was really encouraged today here in Delhi to see Indian government ministers speak broadly and positively about the Climate Change Agenda and having myself survived the Copenhagen Conference of late 2009, where we had a significant disagreement with India, it’s good to see that things have changed.

GUPTA: It’s good to see. Our fight should be confined to the cricket field and I promise you I find it very tough to address you as Kevin, although our Prime Minster finds it much easier to call your Prime Minister Tony. But, having said that Kevin, thank you very much. We shall meet for our two beers after we beat you in the Final in the World Cup.

RUDD: Let me just say this down the barrel of your camera. See the deal is this, if it is an Australia-India final in the World Cup then it’s just a beer each to start with; if Australia wins and we will, then you and me two on top of that. If India wins, then that’s just bad luck.

GUPTA: A crate of beer for you. You say that on Australian soil. Thank you very much.

RUDD: Thanks very much.