China’s Rise and the Global Order

Posted in International Cooperation, Peace, Security and Counter-Terrorism


17 September 2015

KEVIN RUDD: Thank you President Bollinger for those kind words of welcome. Thank you also Visharkha who I’ve known for more years than either of us care to remember, and for her great leadership of the Asia Society over many years. Also, to Steve Cohen who is Executive Director of the Earth Institute. And to you, all the young women and men of the world – not just America, but the world. Thank you for your welcome to this truly great American university, this truly great global university that is Columbia.


Who was it who said this, “I regard Columbia as the great university of the future. It is not only the most cosmopolitan education facility in this country.” Harvard eat your heart out. “But has a warm place in the intelligent Chinese at home.” These words were spoken by one Columbia graduate after the completion of his doctorate 100 years ago this year. This talented student from Shanghai whose name was Gu Weijun wrote a dissertation full of nuance, humanity and empathy – rare commodities in China’s relations with the West at that time. He went on to write the following, “Mutual forbearance and reciprocal concession are no less the best policy in the intercourse between nations than in the relations between individuals.” Gu also pointed optimistically to the growing convergence of Chinese and Western interests in the world, rejecting the common delusions – to use his words – that they were “inherently antagonistic”.


100 years later, we today could all use a dose of Gu Weijun’s optimism, his measured optimism. His great and later success in life was accompanied by an even greater humility. In 1912 when Gu had only finished three chapters of his dissertation, the Chinese Minister summoned him to Washington. The Minister offered him a job on the recommendation of the Premier of the fledging Chinese Republic. Gu declined the offer immediately, citing his desire to finish his studies at Columbia and get his dissertation done. Note that carefully all of you. However, the Chinese Premier at the time – less than one year after the fall of the last Chinese Empire, the Qing in 1911 – the Chinese Premier and his own supervisor pressured the young Gu who finally accepted the offer. His training right here at Columbia provided him with a cosmopolitan environment in which to hone his natural talents. He perfected his French, he perfected his German and his English, becoming an accomplished orator and debater here at Columbia, a mover and shaker in student politics, a proud editor of the Columbia Daily Spectator – which I gather is still in publication today.


Gu Weijun is known in the English speaking world as Dr Wellington Ku. His illustrious diplomatic career is now the stuff of legend. He negotiated an end to the unequal treaties which had subjugated China to the Western powers for a century. He represented China at the 1919 Versailles Treaty, refusing to sign an agreement which not only disregarded Chinese interests but instead sacrificed those interests to Japan. He later served as the acting Prime Minister of China, Ambassador to France, Great Britain, the United States and was a signatory to the United Nations Charter at San Francisco in 1945. Wellington Koo’s remarkable career mirrors China’s tumultuous history during the course of the 20th century. His life’s philosophy summed up in one paragraph can be gleaned from a passage in his dissertation where he writes the following, “If to the intelligent and intensely patriotic efforts of the Chinese people to regenerate their country, there are added the sympathy and moral support of the Treaty Powers, the rise of a powerful and progressive China will surely be hastened a hundred-fold. And China in progress and power means the Far East in permanent peace.”


Wellington Koo believed that the rise of powerful China would not put it at odds with the established great powers despite the fact that these same great powers had divided and weakened China for nearly 100 years at that time. With their support, Wellington Koo argued, China’s rise would become the keystone of lasting peace in Asia. This is of profound importance. In today’s foreign policy environment Wellington Koo would perhaps be written off as a misty eyed idealist, for defying the proposition that China’s rise will automatically lead to a conflict with the existing great powers if not war. Wellington Koo worked assiduously for 40 years to re-establish China’s place in the world and, within the confines of the political context in which he worked, chartered his own course for the rejuvenation of China (CHINESE). A rejuvenation he predicted almost a century ahead of its time. Of course, the historical record is that Koo sided with the Nationalist Government of Chiang Kai-Shek against the Communist Party in the Civil War, although both sides fought the Japanese invasion under the terms of the Untied Front. The value of the academy, in particular this great academy here at Columbia, is one which also nurtures the long term study of China as you have done within these walls as well. My observations today is that, among the sturm und dräng – the thunder and lightning – of day to day international relations, the value and virtue of the academy is that we are able to pause and reflect on the lessons of history both good and bad.


That includes the reflections of Dr Gu Weijun in these grounds 100 years ago, and his conclusion that China’s rise could be achieved despite all of its inherent complexity. Rather than China becoming yet another doleful illustration of what international relations scholars describe as the ‘Thucydides Trap’, whereby a rising great power challenging an established great power will almost inevitably result in conflict and war. I regard disproving the Thucydides Trap as it relates to China and its relationship with the United States of America as the preeminent foreign policy challenges of our time. The beginning of wisdom in international relations is to understand how ‘the other’ sees reality, and why it is that they see reality in those terms. This is a core part of the project which your university, through the Global Thought Centre, is engaged. This is particularly important when we are dealing with the rapid re-emergence or, as China would see it, it’s further re-emergence as a global great power. China’s worldview is deeply shaped by its history as one of the oldest civilisations with a continuing written language, literary and philosophical traditions stretching over 300 years and the glories of its own imperial past. For China the mark of history is profound as are the scars of collective memory. History has shaped China’s strategic perceptions of the United Kingdom, the United States, the rest of the colonizing West as well as, of course, Japan as a colonial power as well. Into China’s account of its historical engagement with the world one can identify several themes that continued to shape its own interactions with other nations and international institutions.


  • First, China at least over the last 500 years has not sought to invade either the West, Japan or any other country so as to provoke the imperial carve up of its own territory which unfolded through the 19th century and beyond.
  • Second, in China’s view it is been the victim of international aggression rather than a perpetrator, particularly during its century of perceived national humiliation.
  • Third, Chinese losses during the Japanese occupation were of staggering proportions by global standards, not dissimilar to those suffered by the Soviet Union during the Second World War, explaining in part Beijing’s continued neuralgia towards Tokyo both in terms of the official Japanese account of the War as well as its professed deep reservations about Japanese remilitarization.
  • Fourth, China’s preoccupations have historically been largely domestic. Namely, governing a quarter of humanity rather than dreaming of carving out an overseas empire for itself even when it was capable of doing so during the Ming Dynasty, as the Japanese and European empires themselves sought to do.
  • Fifth, China regained its proper place in the community of nations as a result of its own national efforts rather than depending on the benevolence of others and is now in a position to shape its own future rather than having its future determined by others.
  • Finally, modern Chinese leaders have a profound sense that China’s time has now come although they are deeply concerned that other great powers may seek to prevent it from assuming what it believes to be its proper place in the community of nations because its rise could challenge continuing US regional and global dominance.


While Chinese leaders remain acutely conscious of the array of domestic and international challenges still to be addressed they are also aware that China, for the first time in its history, now occupies a respected and powerful place in the world. The days of China being seen as the Sick Man of Asia (CHINESE), universally the case in Wellington Koo’s time are now long gone. China has returned to a level of national wealth and power which was unimaginable in the times that Wellington Koo studied here in around 1915. Of course, according to President Xi Jinping, there is much to be done in what he describes as the great and continuing task of national rejuvenation. That task will not be a smooth one as the debate on the future of the Chinese economy demonstrates. However, the questions which presents itself to us if China continues to rise – which I on balance believe it will – is what type of international order will China now seek? Will it be radically different from the one we have today? Or will it be a more creative variation of a continuing theme?


It is on this question that I would like to reflect today. With history as a guide we might observe the preservation of international order is no easy thing, while a construction of a genuinely global order is virtually without precedent. In these sobering years of anniversaries, 2015 – the bicentenary of the Congress of Vienna, 1914 – the centenary of the war to end all wars, and with 1947 – today the 70th anniversary of the end of the World War that followed the war to end all wars. We are all haunted afresh by the ghosts of institutional failure. Out of the embers and ruins of ’45 was born what we now describe as the post-War rules based international order. From the outset it was a fusion of liberal aspiration and realist power, crowned by the United Nations and Bretton Woods institutions and underpinned by the reality of virtually unchallenged American military and economic might. America did not do such a bad job of it given where we had come from. Building a durable international order remains the central challenge of international relations today. Again, if history is our guide it tells us that orders of one form or another are difficult to build but not difficult to destroy. We need only reflect on the sorry history of the League of Nations as our most recent case in point. If we ignore the centrality of the international order, fail to recognize the seeds of any impending disintegration or else believe that orders are somehow inherently self-sustaining then we fail to learn the core lesson of history, and in doing so we abdicate our responsibility for the future.


We can begin by asking ourselves what has fundamentally changed in world politics since 1945. First, decolonization over the last 70 years which has seen the quadrupling of the number of member states of the United Nations – 50 of us back in 1945, 195 or thereabouts today. Second, the end of the Cold War – although after 20 years of relative calm the future trajectory of Russia-US relations is once again uncertain. Third, economic globalization together with the incapacity of weak global and national institutions to deal effectively with global economic challenges in turn inducing a crisis of confidence in existing multilateral economic and financial institutions. Fourth, the emerging range of other global challenges – most recently and spectacularly in Europe, the refugees crisis for which the existing UN based institutions are increasingly seen to be inadequate to the task giving rise to a much broader debate on the deficit of global governance we have today. Fifth and finally, these great drivers of change in the post-’45 order, the rise of China means that the United States will no longer necessarily be the world’s largest global economy and this in turn giving rise to questions about the future of American global future strategic resolve which rests on its as yet unmatched military power.


Against this background what can be usefully said about China’s aspirations for the future of the global order? Again, let me try to explain the view, at least as seen from Beijing.


  1. China recognizes that it has benefitted from the current order so far, particularly in facilitating the export based growth that has driven China’s economic rise over 30 years.
  2. China resents, however, and rejects the US notion that China needs to become what the Americans describe as ‘a responsible global stakeholder’. For China sees this notion as condescending in its assumption that China is not a responsible global stakeholders already – relative at least to the role played by other states in the international community today.
  3. China nonetheless has no interest in any fundamental repudiation of the existing global order not least because it is highly wary of its own national overreach relative to what it has observed with other great powers and does not at this stage see itself in any way as an indispensible global power when it comes to the provision of global public goods.
  4. Chinese think-tanks, nonetheless, are hard at work envisaging China’s future role in a new international order. However, it would be wrong to conclude that China at this stage has any agreed blueprint for the systematic reform of the order, let alone an entirely different order.
  5. China however is now likely to become an increasingly active voice in the normal review processes of the international system in pursuit of its general principle of advocating greater multipolarity in international relations – a term which is a none too subtle code for reducing unilateral American power.
  6. China’s position in this is strengthened by the growing international support it has secured across the G77, reinforced by China’s expanding economic assistance program and growing foreign direct investment presence across the developing world.
  7. China has long seen the United Nations – particularly the Security Council – as an asset to its own international efforts as well as a useful vehicle for developing an increasingly multipolar order. China therefore has no interest in the UN becoming less relevant over time and, in fact, would prefer it to become more relevant over time.
  8. For similar reasons, China has welcomed its role in the G20 and is more likely to seek to expand the G20’s global influence over time including under its own presidency of the G20 next year in 2016. By contrast, it sees the G7 as a comfortable Western club with comfortable armchairs full of folks from the former colonial world, and quietly dying in their chairs.
  9. As for the Bretton Woods institutions, China is smarting following the refusal of the United States Senate to increase China’s quota at the IMF, even though a quota increase for China has the support of both the G20 and IMF member states.
  10. In part for these reasons, China has chosen to establish the Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank outside the Bretton Woods framework and it is possible that China will further innovate in the international financial and economic domain where it’s global strength is greatest.


Given these factors what then is to be done if a functioning global order is to be preserved for the future? Ultimately this is a question for nation states, but a few thoughts for the United States and China to consider jointly. If China and the United States were to work conjointly on the future reform of the Bretton Woods institutions I believe that would be good for the international community. For example, it would be good to see representatives from East Asia – not simply the United States and Western Europe – head the principal institutions of the Bretton Woods machinery, namely the IMF and the World Bank. The tradition of simply placing a European in charge of one such institution and an American in charge of the other may have been relevant, I’m not so sure it’s relevant for the future. Another important reform for the IMF from China’s perspective is the inclusion of the Renminbi in the special drawing rights basket. It is important that this not become the sort of internationally divisive debate that we saw recently with the emergence of the AIIB. Further, reforming the IMF’s voting provisions would give Asia a more decisive role in the organization. We know where that history has been most recently.


For the United Nations itself, the Security Council reform, if it is ever to be executed, would need to see more voices from Asia – from countries like India, Indonesia and possible Japan. Furthermore, it may be possible to see a greater role for China within the individual institutions of the UN itself. It is important that we note that China for the first time begun to increase its formal participation in multilateral programs through the institutions of the UN rather than exclusively rely on bilateral programs. China has also begun to become a significant contributor to UN peacekeeping operations in the world and, of the P5 member states on the UN Security Council, is now the largest contributor.


These various reform proposals are all possible. The questions is how could they be brought about? The only way through the UN systems and the Bretton Woods institutions that they can be brought about is collaboratively, but with the collaborative approach embraced both in Washington and in Beijing. That is best for us all. We’ve begun to see early signs of that possibility in terms of the new world of climate change collaboration between Beijing and Washington since the summit between the two countries’ leaders held in Beijing last November. We need to see more such work between now and the upcoming visit of Xi Jinping to the United States and the critical conference of the parties to be held in Paris this December. For effective climate change to work globally requires the United States and China to work openly, constructively and transparently together as the world’s number one and number two emitters of global greenhouse gas emissions. There is no alternative. These two countries have the future of the planet in their hands. But to build from that and also the build other forms of institutional reform across the rest of the United Nations system remains a future prospect for this relationship as well. There is, therefore, in my view hope and possibility for US-China collaboration in the continued reform of the UN and Bretton Woods based multilateral system. But such cooperation is by no means inevitable and if we head on the reverse direction let us always reflect on what the gradual disintegration of global orders has meant in history. Let us never forget the Somme, let us never forget the gates of Auschwitz, let us never forget the refugees in and around Syria today – the real human consequences of global disorder if we allow that to happen.


All this of course requires leadership – political leadership, diplomatic leadership, intellectual leadership, policy leadership. That is where, again, this academy and those like it around the world which the take the study of the United States, the study of China and their roles within the international system seriously. As Wellington Koo concluded his doctoral thesis back in 1915, “China in progress and power means the Far East in permanent peace.” My friends and those of you who are students at this great university, you too have a contribution to make – a contribution in ideas, a contribution in future leadership, a contribution in making a difference. There is nothing determinist in international relations history. Women and men shape the institutions of the future. They shape decisions on war and peace. They shape decisions on collaboration or conflict. That is why universities such as this, where you have the time and opportunity and luxury of reflecting and engaging with one another from across the world provide this unique opportunity for preparation in an important global task for the future.


I thank you.


STEVEN COHEN: Thank you Prime Minister Rudd for once again enhancing our understanding of China’s growing importance and role in the world. Listening to your message today and in Guiyang in June last year at the Eco-Forum, I am once again impressed by your vision, sophistication and deep knowledge of China’s trajectory. If only American politicians could show that kind of vision, particularly in debates on cable news networks. My Earth Institute, SIPA colleague Dr Dong Guo knows how little I know about China and in our research collaboration on sustainability metrics in China, he’s been very patient teaching me about China’s politics, culture and history. I only have a couple thousand more years to go until I’m up to speed so I’m starting now and I hope to continue.


What China is teaching us though is that we are now in the midst of the rapidly changing world economy and world society. Technology has transformed us. Barcodes, containerized shipping, GPS, expensive computing, information, instantaneous and low cost communication and robotics – have combined to create a highly networked interdependent world economy. A product designed in America may be assembled in China of parts made in fifty countries around the world. This is unprecedented, this is a new fact of global economic life and we need to understand the political and environmental impact of these technologies. There are seven billion cell phones on the planet and many of them are smart phones. The web transfers images of our wealth and our lifestyle to every corner of the planet 24 hours day, seven days a week.


The impact of these images creates ferocious political pressure for rapid economic development. This pressure is felt by many of the regimes in the developing world, including China. This political pressures places coal in power plants and black air in the lungs of anyone trying to breathe in Beijing. What I’ve learned in my study of China, just like here in America is that human beings like to breathe – it is kind of essential. We’re all biological creatures who require food, water and air to survive. The same pressure to develop the economy is being transformed into a pressure to protect public health. I’ve seen this in China first hand. It happened here in the 1970s, ‘80s and 90’s and it is happening in China today. The fundamental, irreducible function on government is safety and security, and a polluted world is an unsafe world.


Paradoxically, we are fortunate that burning fossil fuels not only causes climate change but it also causes visable and immediately unhealthy air pollution. The political problem with climate change is that it is created everywhere and its impact is largely in the future. Traditional pollutants have a more visual and immediate sensory and political impact. Our senses directly and immediately experience toxics in our water, air and soil. That in turn impact politics immediately and directly. In America in the 1980s through the use of technology and regulation, we decoupled the growth of our economy from the growth of pollution. In the next decade I believe we are going to witness the same phenomenon in China.


Our deep need to share this beautiful blue sphere in the vacuum of space is motivation to learn how to cooperate and live in peace. I fully agree with your point that China and the US, as the largest emitters of greenhouse gasses, must learn how to control those gasses together. That it is that combination that will save the world and in fact, as you just said, they hold the fate of the world in their hands. Public servants like Prime Minister Rudd who have devoted their careers to building global understanding give me great hope that we are going to succeed in building a sustainable future. Thank you for your impressive and really profound remarks and thank you for visiting here at Columbia University.


VISHANKHA DESAI: I know you’re all eagerly awaiting your turn to talk to Prime Minister Rudd, but just wait for a few minutes so at least I can ask him a few questions. First of all, welcome to my new home which is not so new anymore. But I’m also delighted that you’re at my old home at the Asia Society.


Given that you have such a profound understanding of China’s philosophical trajectory, historical trajectory and therefore you understand these contemporary realities from that perspective, one might argue that the philosophical trajectory of this country and its emphasis on this kind of individualism – freedom of expression on one hand, democracy on the other hand – that these are perhaps not as compatible, or not at all compatible. You have argued for something called ‘constructive realism’ – agree to disagree. But the leaders, even if they want to do that, sometimes they have compulsions as you know as a politician, that come from below. So you have the Senate or the Congress in the United States that says, “We’re not going to sign anything to do with climate control and control change treaty.” How do you think the leaders, even if they want to work together, deal with the compulsions both from here but also in China that really come up, that really make it difficult to collaborate and imagine this shared future? What would be your advice to the leaders?


RUDD: My own judgement, having been a practitioner of international politics, is that decisions are made on a combination of three factors: one is the values that you share or don’t share; the second is the interests that you share or don’t share; and the third is the leadership that actually arbitrates the above. None of these are freestanding entities – they have to be synthesized in a decision. Let me run through those in a little sequence. On the question of values which you just mentioned, I have a fairly radical view which is that Chinese values are not hugely different from Western values. There are huge intersection points. In the classic binary of a bunch of gung-ho American individualists riding horses up San Jose hill, and ‘How the West was Won’, ‘Annie Get Your Gun’ and all the rest of it; against a bunch of quiet collective Confucians over here studying Daoism and the Laozi and the other classics of Chinese learning – I think is partly a fiction of our respective cultures or at least our popular media. I’ve lived in China and visited there more than a hundred times over the years. Over the last 35 years I find Chinese individual who, frankly, had the same aspirations as anyone I’ve ever met in the West – they want to look after their families, they want to look after themselves, they want to have a decent standard of living, they want their kids to be safe, they’d like clean air to breathe, they’d like to have increasing levels of participation in the decision making of their country. That runs against other elements of the Chinese classical tradition which do not have a ready precedent in terms of Western liberal democracy. Go through the Imperial Tradition, go through the attempts at political reform of the ‘20s and ‘30s in China and of course the added complication of the Japanese invasion – it has been a much more concentrated exercise of political power over the centuries of Chinese imperial and republican experience. But we also reflect on the fact that in the West the innovation of what we call liberal democracy is actually quite recent against the span of history – we only had the Glorious Revolution in 1688, this university as Kings College existed before you Americans decided to have a revolution yourselves. That’s when I gather you changed the name from Kings College to Columbia. Well done by the way, I’m a republican myself – not in the party sense, I believe having a republic as opposed to a monarchy. Frankly, the evolution of what we all describe as universal suffrage and voting in elections is essentially a 20th or late 19th century invention. The universal franchise did not exist in most countries until the 1920s – less that a hundred years ago. So we ask ourselves the question, is there some fundamental, irreversible divide in Chinese and American or Western views of the world? I’m not so sure. I think both traditions have similar aspirations but are reflecting them against different timetables and different sets of cultural conditionalities. That’s on the question of values.


Just quickly on interests, my experience of Chinese and American political leaders is that they’re pretty smart. They actually reflect deep and hard on the interests that they share and in China’s case and America’s case, here you have the list of things that you disagree on – cybersecurity, the South China Sea, the East China Sea, the future regulation of NGOs in China et cetera, together with other anxieties which have been around for a while. Here is the list of things you actually agree on in terms of what I’d describe as bilateral investment treaties which you’re still working on, global climate change collaboration, opening lines of collaboration about what to do about North Korean nuclear proliferation, dealing with the common concerns which China and the United States share on terrorism across Central Asia and beyond since it affects all countries, as well as a range of other practical domains as well. So it depends on whether we engage our focus exclusively on what the difficulties are, or whether we try to hold in tension with where the commonalities of interest lie. So, lastly, that is why in the work I did at the Harvard Kennedy School last year I decided to frame an idea which is, in the future of the US-China relationship we need a strategic framework which is capable of addressing significant difference and significant commonalities simultaneously, and not to allow one to absolutely exclude the other. Through collaborative work over time reduce the differences and maximize the agreements. I call that ‘constructive realism’. If you’re an international relations theorist you’d say it’s a contradiction in terms but I’m not an international relations theorist so I don’t care! Constructive in the sense of, here are the things you can work on; realist in, here are the things we disagree on.


But my last concept is, for a common purpose. The common purpose is building step-by-step the strength of the global order over time because, as great powers, China and the United States have an interest in a properly functioning global order. Not one which becomes chaotic and in fact disappears. If there is one word which terrifies every Chinese politician that I’ve ever met and every Chinese political leader in history it is as follows (CHINESE). You don’t want to have chaos in the international system because creating chaos, frankly, is a big problem in the normal conduct of the interests and values of all nation states.


DESAI: So you feel that this idea of agreeing to disagree is the way that the leaders when they create these compulsions and pressures that come from within have to manage and that’s where the politicians really have to make sure the pressures don’t overwhelm the possibility of working together?


RUDD: The role of political leadership is to put a framework around these things. I do not think the current differences between China and the United States mandate the inevitability of conflict and war. I just don’t believe that. I don’t think it is within the thinking of either country’s leadership either. Therefore, what is the political framework or the foreign policy framework or the bilateral framework which provides you with a basis of managing the enormous complexity and diversity of this relationship where you do have some conflicts of values, where you do have some conflicts of interests but at the same time you do have commonality of values concerning the global commons when it comes to climate change and you do have common interests when it comes to dealing with non-state actors like ISIS, ISIL and other terrorist organizations. My argument for political leadership is you need a strategic concept to frame that in. Why? Explaining it to the respective peoples of both countries is what you’re trying to work on. You can’t keep public opinion at home thinking the other guy is really bad, horrible, terrible, evil and expect that not to have an effect. That applies as much to my Chinese friends as it does to my American friends. The other virtue of an organizing strategic principle is that it provides a discipline within the structures of international government systems as well. So the Pentagon and State and their Chinese equivalents know which way the leadership wishes to march.


DESAI: I’m going to open it up and what I will suggest is that you line up right away and please identify yourself and I will start with you Jeff, the Co-Chair of the Undergraduate Committee on Global Thought.


AUDIENCE MEMBER: Thank you for the lecture and the remarks Mr Rudd, on behalf of the entire Undergraduate Committee on Global Thought, I’d like to say that we are very honoured to have you speak to us today. My question is, you of course have just advocated for the constructive realism in bilateral US-China relations, so we know the change of administration has an enormous effect on the dialogue between countries. Given the current leading candidates in the party nomination in the US, how would a possible Clinton, Bush, Sanders or (dare I say) a Trump Administration or Presidency change the nature of the US foreign policy towards China?


RUDD: Good. The last think you want to have is a visiting politician (or someone who is know resident in the United States) providing rolling commentary on the merits or demerits of the political system.


DESAI: And having just had changes in your own country.


RUDD: We’re not in a position to preach here so I’m always cautious about providing public advice to the political process here in the United States or the People’s Republic of China where I spend a lot of time. A few observations though: I think historically the elites in China are accustomed to the fact that there is usually a lot of theatrics on the China question associated with the Presidential campaigns. There is a certain discount factor which applies to that. What I’m more concerned about is if there is a fundamental sea change in the deep American view of China and here I am a little concerned to be blunt. If I put together the issues I tripped through just before – cybersecurity (whether it applies state to state or corporation to corporation), the position which the United States, Japan and some its allies in South East Asia have towards South China Sea and East China Sea, NGO laws. I do worry about the beginnings of an emergence of a grand coalition in this country against China. Coming from the NGO community, coming from the corporate community, coming from the national security community – historically the big bulwark of support for the China-US relationship has been the business community. That’s much weaker than it used to be so what I am concerned about is what I identified as being a slow and steady drift. What I would describe as incremental strategic drift taking the countries further apart. But looking at a university like this, it should not be the case. You come from all over the world and a large slab of you are from China. I imagine a large slab of you are from the United States. When I roll through universities like this one, Harvard and others that I speak at, that is the model I have in my head for the future. But when I look at the drift in sentiment against the United States in China, the drift in sentiment against China here in the United States at different levels I am concerned. Hence, the absolute importance of strategic leadership on the part of both capitals to hold these enterprises together because people need to think what the alternative might be.


AUDIENCE MEMBER: Good afternoon. My name is Sherman and I’m a graduate student over at Columbia SIPA. My question for you is regarding cybersecurity in more detail. So cybersecurity itself, cyber attacks are hard to attribute and so a lot of states or actors think of it as a low-risk, high-reward kind of attack. In terms of this issue of alleged cyberattacks originating in China targeting the US, how should the US or China find a solution to this problem while preventing falling into what you call the ‘Thucydides Trap’?


RUDD: In two sentences. One, in both capitals it is now seen as a big problem for both countries – both state based and corporation based. Two, there is an emerging recognition in both capitals of the need for ‘rules of the road’ and that is, now to negotiate what is a very complex and sensitive national security and corporate domain. Number three, this is unprecedented because it has never been done before and the people who are working on it below the radar will readily tell you that. Finally, if they don’t do it cyber in my view has every potential to become the next generation of weapons of mass destruction. Without firing a shot – if you can disable the power generation system of the City of New York by flicking a switch through a cyber attack or turn blind an entire communications system of military somewhere – frankly, you are looking at a whole level of risk which we haven’t had to contemplate before.


AUDIENCE MEMBER: By name is Rohingi Perique and I’m a Teacher’s College alumna, and I’m a returned Peace Corps volunteer and I began my English teaching career in China so I have a very special place in my heart for China. I really loved my experience there. I was in the Peace Corps Fellow Program at TC and I was actually the first returned Peace Corps volunteer from China to enter the Peace Corps Fellow Program at TC. I’m very proud of that and I really love my experience. I wanted to ask you, could you talk about some of the US development work that is going on in China now because I know there are still Peace Corps volunteers serving in China and we just began Peace Corps in China in 1993 and I was there from 1997 to 1999? If you could just talk about US development work in China?


RUDD: Sure, as an Australian I don’t know a lot about what you’re doing in the Peace Corps in China. But I do know that a whole bunch of international NGOs like the Peace Corps in the United States, which in my view has a great history going back to – who was the guy who invented the Peace Corps? Shriver, thank you. Sorry I had a little block in my modern American history. Great job not just in China but elsewhere. Huge role being played by NGOs right across the country both domestic and international. And here is the new trend – Chinese NGOs working in the rest of the world – not a bad thing either – on common development projects in Africa and elsewhere. So I believe this whole collaboration between NGOs is a great thing for the future.


DESAI: Just to push you a little on that. In China right now there is obviously a concern about the NGOs, not so much in the climate change or the area that deal with pollution, but in many other areas. People are very concerned about the new laws that might come up. How does that affect this idea of NGO collaboration?


RUDD: That’s why I’ve listed a couple of times today this list that I believe is capable of derailing the relationship. The draft laws currently before the National People’s Congress – called an ‘exposure draft’ – on the regulation of NGOs. (CHINESE). It is out there for comment and submissions. Universities across this country and NGOs across this country have submitted, the process of review is underway. I don’t know what the outcome will be but I know this is a highly sensitive question both within the Chinese leadership and within the international NGO community. I really hope, urge and pray to find a creative way through this one, because NGOs have been remarkably constructive in extending the whole net of international contact between China and the rest of the world in the last 30 years.


AUDIENCE MEMBER: Good afternoon Prime Minister, my name is Mark. I’m from the Graduate School of Business. You touched on it a little bit, spoke about how China does not want to fundamentally change the existing world order. But you look at its actions in the South China Sea and you see that their building bases in defiance for example of the Philippines’ case in the UN tribunal. So how do China’s actions in the South China Sea speak of its intentions for the future of the global world order?


RUDD: It’s a good question which is I try to actually put the answers into quite different contexts. The Chinese territorial claim in the South China Sea on which I have no position for or against, same with the East China Sea on Senkaku-Diaoyu – it’s a complex legal question, let the international lawyers sort it out one day. It has been a long standing Chinese territorial claim as it has been by the surrounding countries in South East Asia and the case Japan in the East China Sea as well. These, therefore, fall within what I would describe as a highly sensitive domain of territorial positions adopted by China post-’49. They also apply to questions like Tibet, Taiwan and the offshore territories or claims in those two seas. I think we make a mistake to simply mechanically extrapolate from those historical positions on territorial claims in and around mainland China to China’s posture on the future of the UN system, China’s posture on the future of the Bretton Woods institutions, China’s posture on how we maintain order in chaotic parts of the world. That is the distinction I seek to make. A question which has been put to our Chinese friends recently, however, is how they will seek to constructively engage in the reform process of the UN and the Bretton Woods institutions which demonstrates to the world that they actually wish to sustain the order. So far I see some positive signs on that from China beginning in their commitment to multilateral aid frameworks rather than purely bilateralizing everything. I think it is important at this stage to quarantine these two debates for the logic I’ve just suggested.


AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hello, my name is Elizabeth Dakatona and I’m a first year at Barnard. My question is how does this idea or how prevalent is this idea of the Middle Kingdom in the current Chinese Administration and how do you see that playing out in the world, in a world of countries that expect them to show responsibility which is not to say that they already have?


RUDD: Sounds like you’ve been reading Kissinger’s book on China? In Henry – who I talk to a lot, I think he’s a great China analyst and a great contributor to the US-China relationship. Henry has a very interesting first chapter of his book on the notion of the Chinese Middle Kingdom. It’s a concept of Chinese centrality which has been around since the get-go. Historically, it has not been a prescription which says that therefore any other entity is by definition at variance with China’s own central governance. It doesn’t have that view. Historically, it’s view was, “Frankly, we Chinese don’t need any of the rest of you because we are the Middle Kingdom. Thank you very much and goodbye.” That was the view under Lord Macartney’s famous expedition to Beijing in 1792 and the Qianlong Emperor sent through him to George III – “Thank you for bringing all these trinkets, we don’t need them, go home and say hi to the King when you get there.” That is classical (CHINESE) attitude toward the self-sufficiency of this Middle Kingdom. Where some Chinese neighbouring states have raised concerns is where some stats have been themselves part of a wider Confucian cultural influence – in Korea or in parts of Vietnam or other neighbouring states – whether there is actually an expectation because they’ve ruled the Middle Kingdom over the centuries that those neighbouring states have a natural sense of the centrality of the Middle Kingdom as well. This is openly discussed and debated in academies everywhere from Tokyo to Singapore and points in between. I think frankly the core challenge in the current period is to deal with China as a large global nation state now fully embracing its challenges and responsibilities and we should embrace it on those terms without disappearing down a tunnel of excessive historical analysis to the views of Qianlong in the middle period reflect what the Chinese are going to do tomorrow with the United States. I don’t think that holds.


AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hi thank you. I’m Eric and I’m a first year at Columbia College. Thank you for our lecture. I read that you wrote your college thesis on Wei Jingsheng who was a democracy activist in China. How do you see the dissident community in China today play a role in China or in Sino-American relations? On a larger scale, how much do you think Australia, America or the West in general can influence the internal political processes of China?


RUDD: Let me take the last part of your question first. This is an important question. It’s about how China charts its own political future. I start from a pretty unremarkable point of view that the Chinese will sort this out themselves over time. What sort of political future do you want for your own country? Secondly, I’ve never been utterly convinced that Chinese policy positions are changed as a consequence of declaratory positions of other governments – whether it is the United States or others in the West – saying, “X,Y,Z must change by tomorrow.” Instead, what I have seen in my own experience of China which goes back to when I went to live there in 1984 (an ominous year in Orwellian history), and have been in and out the country since then is the personal liberty of most Chinese folks has increased phenomenally in the intervening 30 years or so. If you picture a glass of water – the China I went to live in 1984, the water is at about how much individual liberty people had in China in 1984. Back in those days you couldn’t chose what clothes you wore – your dress would not be acceptable, you would either be in a green Mao suit or a blue Mao suit, that would be it. You’d be told when you could get married. You’d be told where you would study, if you could study. You’d be told if and when you’d go to work and in what institution. And for the two or three of you in this group who might have been approved as a Chinese scholarship student, you might have been able to study overseas under strict supervision. Now the China of today is a little bit different. It’s not a glass which is full against a civil libertarian standard but frankly (POURS WATER) it is more like that. What has changed is that – well you guys are here – when I go to Beijing I have conversation openly with a whole bunch of Chinese about practically anything that they want to talk about. I find that in China now there is a huge and open gay culture. Homosexuality, 30 years ago was just inconceivable in the Chinese normal polite discourse. I see this sort of artistic creativity emerging in China as well. This (INDICATING THE REMAINING SPACE IN THE GLASS) is of course where the Chinese Communist Party says, “You in China should not discuss alternative systems to the Chinese Communist Party.” That’s where you are up to. How you chose to deal with the glass in the future contents is a matter for bright young people like you and how you will determine your country’s future rather than having folk like me tell you how the glass might be filled one day.


DESAI: On that note please join me in thanking the Honourable Kevin Rudd for being here and I hope it’s not the first nor the last time. We look forward to seeing more of you now that you are a resident of New York City.


RUDD: Thank all of you for coming. For those of you who are students of China or are Chinese students here, I’m not just saying this to be polite – the future really does lie in your hands, your generation. Tens of thousands of Chinese students studying around the world mixing with all these students everywhere. There is a huge opportunity for you to shape new realities for the future and to avoid all the mistakes that have been made in the past. You are at a great institution that enables that to be the case. I see in this audience another dozen or so Wellington Koo’s and they won’t all be men, in fact, the majority will be women. Thank you very much.