Kevin Rudd on ABC’s 7.30: North Korea

Kevin Rudd joins 7.30 host Stan Grant to discuss the North Korean missile crisis as well as moves for the Australian Labor Party to recognise Palestine. Kevin Rudd tells 7.30 he believes US military action against North Korea is ‘on the table’, and says the problem is that China doesn’t believe it.

Broadcast: 06/07/2017
Reporter: Stan Grant

Transcript –  ABC 

STAN GRANT, PRESENTER: The United States has military plans on the table for a strike against rogue nuclear nation North Korea, according to former Australian prime minister, Kevin Rudd.

Mr Rudd now head of the Asia Society says the question is will Donald Trump order an attack?

North Korea has successfully tested a missile system that could eventually strike as far as the US or Australia and world leaders meeting in Germany at the G20 summit are putting pressure on China, North Korea’s key ally, to step in.

I spoke to Mr Rudd earlier from New York.

Kevin Rudd, it’s a pleasure to have you on the program.

I want to start initially with the North Korea situation, particularly as it relates to China. We have heard from Donald Trump saying that China needs to end this nonsense once and for all.

Malcolm Turnbull also saying it is up to China to try and bring an end to the North Korean nuclear situation.

What is your assessment of China’s role and how effective it can be?

KEVIN RUDD, FORMER PRIME MINISTER: I think the Chinese have two points of leverage and they are big ones.

One, obviously, is in the supply of energy to the north, oil keeps the wheels, the North Korean economy turning but more importantly, it keeps the wheels of the North Korean military turning and North Korea is about 70, 80 per cent plus dependent on Chinese crude petroleum and refined petroleum.

I think the second one is that the Chinese are primarily the only means by which the North Koreans have access to convertible currency to buy the things that they need for their military or for their regime on global markets.

So the real question is can China, or will China apply enough leverage on these two points to bring about change on the nuclear program?

STAN GRANT: Mr Rudd, the key word there is “will”, will China step in and play this role and what would it take for China to really use all its influence?

KEVIN RUDD: Well, that is the core question, Stan. If you are sitting in Beijing, what do they think? They think that North Korea’s a long term strategic ally.

Two, do you want the regime to fall over and have the Korean peninsula turn into, from their perspective, an American proxy state on their border, and therefore, whereas it is undesirable from China’s point of view to have North Korea as a nuclear weapons state, they would still see this as an 80 per cent US problem and a 20 per cent China problem.

So therefore, you go back to the negotiating table. I think from China’s ultimate strategic point of view, they do not judge the American threat of a unilateral military strike against the North Korean nuclear capability as credible.

I think bottom line is that the Chinese believe the Americans are bluffing and their reason for that is that America’s South Korean ally, in China’s assessment, would be urging the United States not to undertake any such action for fear of a North Korean retaliatory strike against the south.

I think that is where it stands between the two of them.

STAN GRANT: If I could just come in there, I want to get your assessment on whether in fact the United States is bluffing.

We have heard from them in the past that the era of strategic patience is over. We know we are dealing with someone in Donald Trump who has already shown he will act in countries like Syria where he has launched an attack there.

Would it be beyond the United States to launch a unilateral attack against North Korea?

KEVIN RUDD: Stan, I think the key problem here between the US and China is on this very point of strategic communication.

What is my belief given that I am resident of the United States and I deal with the American think tanks and to some extent the administration? I actually believe the unilateral military option for the United States from the point of view of their defence planners is in reality on the table.

I cannot tell you how probable it is, in terms of use, but it is on the table and the problem is the Chinese don’t believe that because they believe that the US would never risk such an approach because of the possible consequent damage to the south.

I suppose my counter point to our Chinese friends is this – whatever the US may say about the indivisibility between itself and its allies, the bottom line is if a US administration, such as President Trump’s, is faced with a possibility of an ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) from North Korea one day with a nuclear tip on it being able to threaten the US main land as opposed to a US ally, that brings on a whole different political calculous in this country, the United States.

STAN GRANT: And of course, if an action was to be taken, what would North Korea then do, that is the big question, would it retaliate with the use of nuclear weapons, in your assessment?

KEVIN RUDD: This is uncertain but when you are looking at the current sophistication of the nuclear bombs available to the North Koreans and the delivery vehicles they have, it is still relatively limited.

However, in defence planning scenarios, what you are looking at the possibility instead is of a large scale conventional attack across, from the 48th parallel into Seoul which, as you know, is only 30, 40 kilometres south of the line.

Huge destruction, loss of life in Seoul and for those reasons, the Chinese don’t believe the Americans would ever risk it.

This, I think, is the dangerous centrepiece of the strategic miscommunication between the two at the moment.

STAN GRANT: Just before I let you go, I want to turn your mind, if I can, to a domestic issue and that is Bob Carr’s call for Labor Party now to recognise Palestine.

It is something you have called for yourself in the past but are you concerned with the language that is being used around this, the language of cruelty and chauvinism, the language that Bob Carr has been using to describe Israel, “foul” is another word that he has used?

KEVIN RUDD: Look, I haven’t seen the text of the proposed resolution for New South Wales state conference. It is a fair ways from New York, but the bottom line is, and I’m not a delegate, but the bottom line is this, I have always supported a two-state solution.

I have always been pro-Israel but being pro-Israel doesn’t line you up as being pro-Netanyahu, particularly when Netanyahu has effectively walked away from the substance of a two-state solution.

Having said that, I don’t think it actually helps the debate in New South Wales or around the country to start to use too extravagant language about policies being pursued in various parts of Israel by the Government.

What we need is to ensure that we apply the pressure of Australian politics, Labor and conservative in the direction of a two-state solution which happens and the current Israeli Government under Prime Minister Netanyahu is walking in the reverse direction.

STAN GRANT: Mr Rudd, good to talk to you, as always.