The New European: China and the West

E&OE TRANSCRIPT
PODCAST INTERVIEW
THE NEW EUROPEAN
19 MAY 2020

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Andrew Adonis
Kevin, as an Oxford grad, we all take it as a huge compliment that you’re doing a PhD at Oxford at the moment on what couldn’t be a more topical subject than President Xi’s worldview. You’ve been following China more closely than almost anyone in the West for 45 years. How does his worldview change significantly, do you think, from what we’ve got used to in in the post-Deng regime? Is it a big change? Are we moving to a big new form of dictatorship? Or is it evolution? What’s going on?
Kevin Rudd
Analytically, I think we’re looking at a cocktail of some evolution and some revolution. The best frame for looking at this academically and analytically is how the Communist Party itself under Xi’s leadership has begun to evolve its own definition of its central core priorities. To put this into context, when Deng Xiaoping came back into leadership in October of 1978, he formally redefined the party’s mission. It wasn’t just an informal definition. And the way in which he formally defined the new mission was to take the machinery of Marxism-Leninism, historical materialism, dialectical materialism, and frame his worldview in Marxist terms along these lines: one, China was still in the primary stage of socialism; number two, within that primary stage of socialism, there was inadequate development of so called factors of production, and hence China’s poverty; and three, therefore, for the foreseeable future, China would be in the business of using whatever means possible to develop the factors of production, that is to enhance its economic development. And from that ideological transformation away from class struggle and the international solidarity view of the world, including some support for international revolutionary movements, so was born the modern Chinese worldview. So you roll the clock along through Deng Xiaoping through Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao from 1978 through until, frankly, the 19th Party Congress held in 2017, by and large, all these congresses of the party, re-emphasise Deng’s original line and added elements to it. The essential being: reform and opening the machinery to develop the Chinese economy, and we’ll handle the social consequences on the way through, and if everyone gets out of hand politically, we will club them. That’s essentially what the game plan was. And we saw that in Tiananmen in ’89. We’ve seen it in lesser forms since then. Now, the reason I’ve said a little bad is that Xi Jinping and his heart of hearts and minds of minds is something of an audio log. That is that this ideational world actually means things. The closest equivalent I could offer you, Andrew is, is it’s a bit like the authority which the Catholic Church attributed to the Council of Trent at the time of the category information. So when the party meets in Congress form, it’s looking at the core, fundamental pillars of ideological belief. So under Xi Jinping, what we have seen is the retention of some of that on the economic development front, but a slower pace of economic reform. And on the question of opening being a doctrine by which China would open to the outside world in order to enhance its domestic economic development, that too has been reinterpreted into the more assertive China that I think forms the basis of your question. So I’m sorry to put all that into a long ideological frame. The reason I do so is quite deliberate, is that Xi Jinping is a deeply ideological leader.
Andrew Adonis
But two questions arise from that. Firstly, is this a new dictatorship? Are we looking at a new but hopefully slightly more rational Mao? And is that a fundamental ideological conflict with the West which had previously been managed since then, but now it’s going to flare into the open? Are we into what is going to be a really — I mean, I know one of your running themes at the moment is how to avoid the avoidable war — are you saying that because you think the combination of quasi-dictatorship, maybe real dictatorship, and ideological conflict is going to make this really, really difficult to manage over the coming years?
Kevin Rudd
Well under the party’s constitution since the get-go, including under Deng and the rest to through to Xi Jinping, it is a people’s democratic dictatorship. What we’ve seen in practice, however, is let’s call at the ebb and flow of levels of party control. But with Xi Jinping, it’s headed in one direction, which is towards a greater centralization of party power over the state machinery, party power over the liberty of let’s call it China’s entrepreneurial culture, and party power over let’s call it academic and cultural freedom.
Andrew Adonis
His personal power. Is this an assertion of personal dictatorship as well?
Kevin Rudd
Yes. And in terms of the, let’s call it the more brutal exercise of the power of the leadership, we’ve seen that through the deployment of the anti-corruption campaign to eliminate political opponents. So you put all those things together, on let’s call it the political, ideological and cultural side. It has been a significant concentration of power to the point where he is not primus inter pares; he’s just primus. Then on the economic side, which is the real dilemma, you’ve seen a similar transference. So let’s call it an approach to centralization and political power to re-centralization of authority in relation to the economy. And the problem here in reality is the Chinese private sector has taken fright. And as a result, prior to the COVID-19 crisis, prior to the trade war between China and the United States in 2018 and 2019, there was already a slowing of the economy evident in the data, because suddenly the room and political space and policy space given to the private sector to grow was constrained. So for these two reasons, you see measurable qualitative change under Xi Jinping’s ideological redefinition of his own role and that of the party.
Andrew Adonis
Before we get to COVID-19 — I want to come to in a moment how far that’s a game changer — all of the moves taking place in in West relations with China, were they all before this negative or was there anything positive?
Kevin Rudd
You mean on China’s part on the part of the West?
Andrew Adonis
Both, in terms of mutual relations. It looks like a picture of a pretty unrelieved gloom since in the last five to 10 years, is that is that a fair summary, that that have moved backwards? Understandings about international rules, openness, trust, were all moving backwards? And this was to be, if you’re standing back and looking at it, obviously, there’s a certain amount of short term partisan politics, you know, with Trump and with different governments in Australia and so on, but actually, to be blunt, this is six of one, half a dozen of the other — it’s serious moves backwards on the part of the new, more ideological, as you put it, Xi regime being matched by maybe unduly provocative but nonetheless understandable reactions on the part of the West?
Kevin Rudd
I think that’s broadly correct. The prime mover in this has been changed on China’s part. If we’re looking about static and dynamic factors in international relations, China has been the dynamic factor changing, both in terms of not just its internal political posture along the lines we’ve just discussed, but on the external assertion of power geopolitically, South China Sea to some extent Taiwan, certainly its rollback against American forward positioning militarily in East Asia and the West Pacific, and China’s greater role in international institutions in terms of the positions it holds and pushing those institutions in a direction much more commensurate with China’s national interests, and critically national values. So there’s been a china dynamic at work since Xi Jinping has taken over late 2012, early 2013. In terms of the let’s call it international reaction to that, we saw this unfold in several phases. President Obama sought to engage the new Chinese leadership and form a type of, I won’t say combined administration, but mutual understanding about how the machinery of global governance could operate and deploying that together, hence the outcome on climate change at Paris in 2015. But with President Trump, it’s been a much more fundamental ideological and geopolitical reaction. And so you saw that in the national security strategy of late 2017, China for the first time defined as a strategic competitor. Furthermore, the trade war of 2018-19 and now let’s call it the rolling explosion in both the economic and political relationship. So we cannot justify in rational terms every element of American reaction, particularly given that a lot of it has been incoherent. But in terms of China having been the prime mover generating an American reaction, that I think is a fair analysis of the overall dynamics.
Andrew Adonis
Look at looking at your own record, which I’ve been studying over the last week preparing for this both as a diplomat, as prime minister and subsequently, is it fair to characterize it as tough on China — it’s very tough on China, but very engaged. Your message has always been.
Kevin Rudd
I think that’s fair. I mean I’ve been criticized in Australia, at least, and to some extent, internationally, for being either too hard or too soft at various times. But because I’m a student of Chinese politics, and because I’m a student of Chinese language, I kind of understand the nature of the Chinese Leninist state, and what you’re dealing with here, and this is, this is not a bunch of Sunday School teachers. This is a hard, hardened Soviet-style Leninist regime, but having fully embarked upon let’s call it perestroika without glasnost, and as a result, you’ve ended up with an authoritarian state in China’s case, which has economically succeeded so far, while maintaining political control without having gone down the glasnost route. So, from the get-go, I’ve been relatively familiar with the way in which this operates. So therefore, my engagement with the Chinese in office and out of office has been along these lines. One, Australia is a long standing ally of the United States; that won’t change for historical reasons, but also future reasons. Two, we’re a proud Western liberal democracy, we believe in universal values; and guess what, they’re not going to change either. That’s who we are. That’s our identity. Three, we’ve got a lot of common bilateral economic interests; let’s prosecute that to our mutual advantage. And four, we belong together to most of the institutions of regional and global governance together, and let’s work constructively along those lines, which we’ve done in the G20 and elsewhere. So when I say a balanced relationship, it’s firm on the first two, engaged on the second two. The danger, I think, in many Western reactions to China is that they either pretend the first two don’t exist, or suddenly discover that the first two are the only two. So that’s the kind of my [inaudible].
Andrew Adonis
Yeah, that all sounds perfectly sensible given the situation we’re in. There’s one bit though, could you just explain a bit more? One of your themes is that the only language which the Xi regime understands is power and the ally to power which is force. How do you both remain strongly engaged, while speaking the fairly brutal language of power and force? How do we put those two together?
Kevin Rudd
Well, I think it’s a deep analysis of where the Chinese Communist Party comes from, because then its pre-49 experience, and its long historiography, it’s wrestled with those realities for decades and decades before becoming the state power in China. And then after that, it faced these parallel dilemmas in its relationship, first with the United States and then the Soviet Union after the Sino-Soviet split. So, engagement being prosecuted at the same time, as let’s call it an utterly realist view of state-to-state relations is something not alien to China’s worldview and diplomatic and political practice. I think what we find in the West problematic is that duality, and, shall we say, effectively reflecting it in the sort of policy practice in which we get engaged. So my argument is, China’s used to this; we in the West have not been, partly because China now has recently changed, but we’ve got to get rapidly used to it. Otherwise we go from ‘were in love with China’ to a second Cold War, and then ultimately the risk of a hot war.
Andrew Adonis
Two other big picture things before I get to COVID. Firstly, is it right to describe new China now as an imperial power? Because, you know, I’m very struck as you look around the world now, China is everywhere. You know, it’s an Africa it’s in all of the primary producing nations. It’s got a whole web of what, you know, people looking at the British Empire would see as informal empire. But also, China’s becoming a serious military power, which we haven’t seen in recent times as well. And you know, there’s loads of stuff now in the media about new stealth bombers and all of that. If you put these two aspects together, are we facing a serious military threat from China and are we basically dealing now with an empire, not with large states?
Kevin Rudd
In the case of what China has done in the last 20 years, effectively since the United States became utterly preoccupied in the war against terrorism, China has rolled itself out economically across the world, Firstly, under Jiang Zemin. Jiang Zemin just said ‘go out and do business’. He had to create a Chinese expression for it, [speaking Mandarin], ‘just go out and make some cash’. And guess what: they did, and they’re very good at it. Secondly, what you also then found is that not only did Chinese capital find its way around the world but Chinese people, so across Africa and Latin America, you’ll see like millions of Chinese go out to the world, set up small business, medium business, large businesses. So this has been a long-stage 20-year process.
Andrew Adonis
This is all a bit like early stages of the British Empire.
Kevin Rudd
Well, that’s true. If you were to study the history of the East India Company, apart from the odd spat between the French and Robert Clive and the rest of it, basically it began as a commercial exercise, the missionaries followed and the state in its military capacity, then as well, except in our case, you just had to set up a jail. So that was fine.
But going back to the central task here, which is so if you see this evolution of China’s engagement over the last 20 years, phase three, if you like, was the Belt and Road Initiative. 72 participatory states, large and small, active and passive. But underpinning that is a key piece of economic infrastructure to do with the rollout of China’s digital RMB, international e-commerce systems, 5G networks, the whole kit and caboodle. And then, if you like, the fourth wave of this is the beginnings of a level of militarization, depending on which of the Belt and Road partners you’re talking about, but the so-called as String of Pearls across the Indian Ocean, Chinese ports from Southeast Asia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, across to Pakistan, into Djibouti prospectively on the East African coast, and associated with airport development as well. So the reason I say that is that it has evolved in this direction over time. Where I do not use the term ‘imperialism’ is that I see nothing in China’s current practice or in its historical perspective that it actually wants to occupy territory. That is alien to their interest. Maximizing, however, their economic and strategic interests through a series of other relationships, that is their interest. So we are looking at something that is somewhat sui generis.
Andrew Adonis
[Laughs] Yeah. Understood. Speaking as an Australian leader, do you now see China as a military threat?
Kevin Rudd
I see China as a military challenge, and not a threat. And what’s the difference between the two? China has changed the military dynamic in East Asia, not just because of the South China Sea, not just because of, frankly, the acquisition of capabilities which are much more blue-water in orientation than was the case before. But again, when I qualify the language in terms of threat, it’s because when you ask yourself this question: is China a military threat to Australia’s territorial integrity? Well, no. China has no interest in violating our territorial integrity. Where China has an interest is increasingly supplanting Australia, for example, as the principal power for engagement in the southwest Pacific and certainly over time displacing Western interests in Southeast Asia. So that is at a level of geopolitics, as opposed to direct military threat to terra australis incognita.
Andrew Adonis
Do you think Australia’s defence spending over the medium term is going to have to rise, simply in response to China?
Kevin Rudd
Yes, well in my period in office in our Defence White Paper of 2009, we were actually the first regional government to identify China as a clear military and strategic challenge for the region, and to do so explicitly in our published documents. By the way, this sent the Chinese government nuts at the time. And this was three years prior to Xi Jinping taking over. And as a consequence, in that white paper indicated, that for the future, our defence outlays had to be a) 2% of GDP and b) growing at least 3% annually. My own argument is that, and I’ve written this, is that Australia’s defence outlays will need to increase over time beyond that base. And secondly, in order to afford that, we continue to need to expand our population base in order to frankly make 2% of GDP, 3% growth annually matter, given that we have a huge territory, one of the longest coastlines in the world, I think the third-largest special economic zone in the world. And therefore, as a consequence, we face ourselves as a credible nation state, long-term resourcing challenges which we must meet.
Andrew Adonis
A final big picture question. Is this a monolithic, ideological dictatorial regime? Or are there more liberal elements in it which sensible policy would be seeking to encourage? Is that a misconception for people like me who don’t really understand this regime? Are there bits of it which are much more favourable to us and our worldview, which we should be fostering, because after all, there is intense Chinese engagement with the West and they know all about us, or is that a misconception we should deal with it as an ideological monolith?
Kevin Rudd
The political and security apparatus is reasonably monolithic, but with some exceptions. For example, Xi Jinping recently had to purge the vice-minister for public security because that person was not fully loyal. And so there are still fractures and fissures even with that side of the operation. But when you get to the policy apparatus of the Chinese state, and certainly the Chinese academy and let’s call it Chinese social media, it is an increasingly, shall we say, diverse beast. And so Chinese body politic is also divided between nationalists and globalists, between ‘China first’ types in xenophobes on the one hand, versus those who have a more cosmopolitan view of the world, and let’s call it classical Leninist ideologues on the one hand, versus those who have been trained in the western academy for the last 40 years and have a different, as it were, worldview. The key challenge, therefore, for international diplomacy and high policy and politics in dealing with China, is certainly to define the operating strategy of the Chinese Leninist state. That’s critical. But secondly, to understand that in our public language in addressing China and the Chinese people, that we’re looking at a much more variegated reality. And I think that’s a more sophisticated way to proceed. One of Trump’s major — here’s a technical Australian term — screw-ups over the COVID-19 crisis has been, frankly, not realizing that when China was in grave difficulty in January and February this year, to extend the hand to the Chinese people and say ‘we’re with you’ as his action of global solidarity and American global leadership. Instead you had a fair bit of popping of champagne corks as I wrote recently in Foreign Affairs magazine, in the hope that the Chinese geopolitical bubble would implode. Well, let me tell you, that was disastrous in terms of its filtering through to Chinese public opinion, when people literally in the country were fearing for their lives. So this understanding of people, let’s call it broader political establishment, and Marxist-Leninist party. This is a set of differential concepts which we as those who engage China must be aware of and the manner in which we conduct our own diplomacy.
Andrew Adonis
So we should we should be very pro-China, whatever our concerns and challenges in dealing with the regime? That’s your message, in terms of Chinese people, the Chinese civilisation.
Kevin Rudd
There is a difference between the Leninist party on the one hand, the Chinese nation on the other, the Chinese people more broadly, certainly the Chinese diaspora. Whereas, frankly, when you see some of the stuff rolling out of Washington, sometimes it gets all rolled into one. And it’s frankly, just unfair and unhealthy.
Andrew Adonis
Which international leader at the moment you, you know a person who actually holds office at the moment, do you think gets this balance best at present?
Kevin Rudd
Remarkably, I think Shinzo Abe in Japan. You would think, well, that sounds normal because Japan’s next door. Not really. I mean the topology in the Sino-Japanese relationship since well —
— [inaudible] the 30s has been, shall we say, problematic, To say the least. So I’ve got to say Shinzo Abe in the last couple of years, I see a much more nuanced appreciation of what he’s dealing with in terms of Xi Jinping’s leadership, the broader Chinese national body politic and the diversity of the Chinese economy. I haven’t seen that get evidence from the part of the European leadership, either the national or collective, nor in the case of the United States. Shinzo Abe probably comes closest.
Andrew Adonis
It’s terrible, yeah.
Kevin Rudd
Is there something that Abe has done specifically that you would recommend Europe to look at in in terms of a model for how we should be dealing with China?
With Shinzo Abe partly because Japan has so many equities in the Japan China relationship — like if it goes bad, it goes really bad, and it’s not all that much separation geographically between Tokyo and Beijing — I think it’s this, and I’ll make it as a general point rather than a specific action: is that Japan is always very careful and very consistent in the way in which it manages its operational strategy and operational diplomacy in dealing with China. There continue to be rolling incidents every day around Senkaku-Diaoyu Dao, the contested territories in the East China Sea between the two countries? At the same time, Shinzo Abe does not launch into a public ideological diatribe against China, the Chinese government, the Chinese people, every other day because he feels like it, or because he’s picked up that morning’s Nikkei or Yomiuri Shimbun and said ‘well, let’s have a go, this sounds interesting’. So there’s actually a discipline in terms of a kind of hard-line operational strategy on the one hand, and a greater delicacy in Japan’s public diplomacy in dealing with China on the other, picking its fights where it needs to, as opposed to as a matter of course, which seems to have become the operating principle in Washington.
Andrew Adonis
So the lesson I would draw from that is that we should be working much more closely with Japan on our relationship with China.
Kevin Rudd
I think if you’re looking for a mature political system, which is a democracy, which has a relatively open economy, and is a G7 country as well as being a G20 country, I think there is a lot of wisdom which has been accumulated. And I say this not as a personal friend of Shinzo Abe — I know him, but I don’t know him well — I’ve just observed the growing maturity of his frankly engagement. And the key thing is always this: understand what your operational strategy is, which in Japan’s case is very hard-line. But at the same time, prosecute effectively both an economic strategy and a let’s call it public declaratory strategy, which, which is more sophisticated and nuanced, and then what you find coming out of Washington.
Andrew Adonis
And without the megaphone is your point?
Kevin Rudd
Yeah without the megaphone, but can I say, beneath the surface, it’s hard. Whereas I find with many of my European friends, whether it’s in London, Paris or Berlin, there is often an assumption that you must put the megaphone away permanently and rollover your tummy tickled every second Thursday as a way of dealing with our Chinese friends for fear of upsetting them. Can I just remind the European audience that you are dealing with a Leninist state, as existed in the old Soviet Union in the 1980s, in terms of its essential political construction, so therefore, do not think that it is a rolling exercise in Socratic exchange. You have core interests, core values, stand up for them. But understand the disciplines of declaratory strategy and operational strategy.
Andrew Adonis
Now COVID-19. Is a game changer because people like me who haven’t, who have been basically in the position that you’ve described are thinking ‘strong engagement, but be tough’ with China are now really worried about how you engage, even in trade, which has been the big mutual benefit, how do you engage with the regime, which now, twice in two decades, has exported a lethal pandemic to the world? And this time, so much worse than SARS. How do you do it? I mean, the level of trust, the institutional engagement you need, you know, all of those supposedly failsafe reporting systems that were supposed to been put in place with SARS, where they clearly haven’t worked by the nature of the regime this time. So what do we do? How how do you maintain an engaged relationship and trade with a regime that exports massive lethal pandemics?
Kevin Rudd
The first thing we’ve got to do and I’ve said this, to many of our Chinese interlocutors has been, whether Beijing likes it or not, they will have to be an international inquiry to establish the facts around each of these propositions, which is: where did the virus come from? How was it transmitted? Were the notification procedures domestically between the provincial government national government effective or not? How big was the delay? Was there a delay in notifying the WHO, and what did the WHO then do about it? And did China attempt to dilute the WHO’s message? But then there’s another question, Andrew, which is, what the hell did the rest of the world do? And the WHO did warn everybody? And we could make, I think, a cogent case that there hasn’t been a robust preparatory response by various countries in the West, either. So it’s this whole spectrum. So the Chinese up until now have said to me: well, you know, that’s terrific, Trump’s only interested in a scapegoat, why would we ever be party to such an investigation, when the things which we believe we’ve done right, internally would be ignored, and the things which were foul ups within our system will simply be capitalized upon? So the reason I say this is, there has to be a global clearing of the facts here. My recommendation which I wrote in I think Time Magazine last week, is get the UN Secretary-General to empanel a high-level panel of both Chinese and non-Chinese scientists with wide terms of reference to get to the basis of this, so that the Chinese will be confronted with what they got wrong. But actually, not everything they did was wrong. A lot of it was, but not all of it was. So that I think is going to be the baseline clearinghouse before we go to the next stage about the terms of subsequent engagement.
Andrew Adonis
Yeah, but does that process require the agreement of Xi or not? How are you going to get Chinese scientists to engage properly if Xi is opposed to the, to this process?
Kevin Rudd
Well, the truth is, Chinese scientists, as of today are still dealing with scientists routinely in the United Kingdom and United States and Australia, about every element of how we’re handling COVID-19. Much of the scientific collaboration continues. The reason I know it is that I’ve been through my own think-tank intermediating some of that, but only a small part of it because most of it is spontaneous occurring, including between the two Centers for Disease Control at Atlanta and in Beijing. So, the scientists actually speak the same language. It’s called empiricism. And therefore, the capacity to do this is certainly exists on the Chinese side. You are right to say however, the political greenlight has to go on from Xi Jinping before this can occur and the debate in Beijing right now is whether to participate in any such enterprise or not. Hence, my own recommendation was the only politically neutral platform to convene this is probably the UN Secretary-General, and through a panel of, of scientists, both Chinese and non-Chinese, to establish the facts. Will I agree to that? I cannot predict that. But the debate is being had in right royal fashion within China now, internally.
Andrew Adonis
What do we do if they don’t?
Kevin Rudd
Well, I think we’ve, under those circumstances, for all of us who engage in the future, tend to be highly problematic. And let us go to basic questions of recommencing normality. What do we then do about the flow of Chinese students around the world?
Andrew Adonis
[Inaudible] everything.
Kevin Rudd
The reconstitution of flights? What do we do about the future of Chinese tourism? And let’s face it, all of our embattled economies welcome all of the above, but not that there is a lack of competence in terms of control systems within China itself. I’ve got to say, though, Andrew, speaking to Chinese officials, they are currently more concerned about the robustness of our control systems in terms of sending their kids into these places, in the ultimate irony of what’s unfolded.
Andrew Adonis
And of course, that’s understandable. But then it’s perfectly reasonable for us to say that this is all a consequence of the problems that we had unfortunately exported.
Kevin Rudd
Exactly.
Andrew Adonis
But coming to the heart of the issue because this is going to be a really massive issue. Do we make renewed engagement a new normal with China — that is flows of students, flows of goods, reopening of airports and flights — do we make that conditional upon them agreeing to your very sensible proposal of a UN-led independent review of the causes of COVID-19? Do we make the one condition on the other or what? If we don’t, how do we?
Kevin Rudd
My advice to both Beijing and to other governments engaging Beijing is that this must happen. And unless it does happen, however you wish to wish it in the future, nothing like a reconstitution of normality will occur anyway. I simply regard as a statement of, as it were, intelligent fact, rather than elevating it to the high levels of diplomatic pre-conditionality. And there’s enough smart people in China and I think in the West, to work out that, frankly, this has to be done. As one of my interlocutors said to me recently, there has to be a global clearing of the air on this. And we have to know the facts. What was the role if any of the Wuhan Institute of Virology? Most scientists I speak to say zero, because it’s a naturally occurring COVID-19 virus which appeared in nature probably in and around the wet markets of Wuhan and then it was off. Which raises the question, well, why weren’t the wet markets properly closed down after the SARS outbreak of 2003? Fair question, but then again why aren’t markets being closed down right around the world where exotic animals are still for sale, including bush meat in Africa, for example? So therefore, I think it’s one of those ones, despite the fact that the world has seen significant carnage in terms of the public health impact, and almost unprecedented economic carnage post-depression from this, but the court of international public opinion and the peoples of the world will demand answers to this — something which I’ve written repeatedly in the period since the virus erupted, and which has been I hope circulated in Chinese leadership circles to say this is not just a CIA plot to humiliate China. The rest of us who don’t work with the CIA on a daily basis, we have a deep interest in understanding what’s the nature of this reality? I hope that is seeping through.
Andrew Adonis
Would it make it easier, do you think, for the Chinese to go along with this, if this independent review we’re looking at didn’t just look at China, but looked at global preparedness for dealing with a pandemic? Or would that make the thing do you think just unmanageably large?
Kevin Rudd
Well, there’s the danger of the latter, Andrew, but my recommendations is around three things. One, terms of reference which deal not just with the China end, but also deal with the WHO end and deal with what the rest of us did about it by way of appropriate national preparations. And as you know, that’s a multi-varied beast around the world. Secondly, that it needs to be a panel which contains both Chinese experts, but non-Chinese experts drawn from countries who have been most impacted by this around the world. And thirdly, the more I’ve thought about it, the only individual who can convene such a panel without going to another body to get a political authorization to do it is the UN Secretary-General. The UNSG routinely convenes high-level panels. I’ve served on myself in the past in one form or another. They’re not a reference from either the Security Council necessarily or the General Assembly, but they can be convened. And the SG will have to put together the right people on the panel who are professionally unimpeachable, while being mindful of the geopolitics of the composition of the panel as well. Unless we have that, we’re going to end up in [inaudible] this is a rolling and spiralling set of mutual accusations, which will frankly become another deep geopolitical disruption.
Andrew Adonis
Do you think Secretary-General Guterres sees it the same way?
Kevin Rudd
I don’t know. I haven’t spoken to him about it. My article has been brought to his attention. It was only published last week. But I’m not sure. But I know the SG would be mindful of how do you achieve a breakthrough here because short of that, Andrew, I cannot identify the mechanism. You either end up with a China national mechanism which, frankly, the West in particular but others, won’t trust. Or you end up with 14 special-purpose committees of the United States Congress, and various, you know, politically driven hanging judges, all looking for their 30 seconds of fame. I think the rest of us actually want to know what are the facts here? [Inaudible] Andrew Adonis
Yeah, what sort of person should chair this panel? Should it be a politician or should it be contest?
Kevin Rudd
I think the only politician who should chair this panel is Guterres himself.
Andrew Adonis
So he could chair it himself, you think, because it’s so it’s so important?
Kevin Rudd
Otherwise, the nomination of a chair becomes of itself a controversial matter.
Andrew Adonis
Right. Is there a precedent for the Secretary General chair a panel like this himself? I mean, obviously this is completely unprecedented territory. So it would seem to me to be exactly the kind of thing you should do. Because it’s a big thing. It’s a big thing you’re saying, that he should personally chair this. [Inaudible] won’t it?
Kevin Rudd
It’s a big thing to deal with a big thing.
Andrew Adonis
Yeah.
Kevin Rudd
And I and I would have to go back to my pwn book of precedents to see which such panels have been put together before. One that I worked on, for example, the SG then Ban Ki Moon empanelled two serving presidents around the world to as it were oversee what we were doing. But ultimately, they are also answering to the SG. I would strongly recommend that the SG chair this because it would simply be too controversial to appoint some mystical person who will be by definition neutral. Historically you would look for a Swede but the Swedish relationship with China at the moment about as toxic as the American one. I don’t know. But you’d be flat out finding somebody who’ll tick the boxes. Guterres is there because he has not been vetoed by any of the P5 and that therefore gives him his cred.
Andrew Adonis
Also, those of us who have observed him have a high degree of confidence in him. I mean, he’s, he’s both consensual and effective, which is the combination you’re going to need for this, isn’t it?
Kevin Rudd
I think the ability to forge a consensus based on the scientific fact, I think that’s absolutely critical here. So I would certainly encourage Antonio Guterres to head in this direction. But because to go back to your fundamental question, Andrew, I do not see normality returning to international relations as they, between any of us, frankly, around the world, let alone our separate bilateral relationships with China. Until the basic facts about the origin of the virus, transmission, mutation, therapeutics, vaccine deployment, WHO role and the rest of us, what we do about it —
Andrew Adonis
Are resolved, completely right. Now, this issue of the WHO itself. You’ve been out there, Kevin, saying that that needs to be fundamental reform. And you said that actually the stance that Trump is taking might actually be positively helpful because it gives the rest of us the chance to step up to the plate to offer more funding to WHO in return for reform. Can I just press on two issues? What’s the big reform that you think needs to take place? But secondly, how can we actually turn the WHO into something that’s really effective if the US isn’t fully engaged?
Kevin Rudd
That’s true. After the Ebola crisis, from memory, 2013-14 there were two major effective international reviews that I can recall. One called, I think, the Stocking review of Barbara Stocking from the United Kingdom. And the second from memory was goes by the euphemism the ‘Lancet’ review after the British Medical Journal. These can be readily Googled. Anything you need to know about WHO reform is in those sets of recommendations. I came along and did a review of the UN multilateral system in 2016. When I got to global pandemic management, I read these two reports and said: what can I possibly add to this? So my own review of UN global pandemic management set up a series of timelines for the SG and member states to act on the two previous sets of review recommendations. So in the guts of it, it is essentially twofold. They’ve had money bleed away from them by things like let’s call it other operations like GAVI and the rest. And I’m a full supporter of GAVI. And I’ve contributed as prime minister and foreign minister hundreds of millions of dollars to the Global Alliance on Vaccine and Immunization, because they do such a great job. But many governments have looked at the GAVI donation as effectively a substitute for what they should continue to be providing funding for the WHO for. The second — that’s resourcing — on powers, it is the powers of the director-general of the WHO to become more autonomous in issuing immediate notifications to the rest of the international community to remove the potentiality for those declarations being circumscribed either by the secretariat or by member states through the executive committee. Now, that’s my broad summary of the two sets of recommendations.
Andrew Adonis
That’s a big agenda and an important one. Do you think the WHO has been too close to China through this?
Kevin Rudd
The honest answer to that is, Andrew, I don’t know. I’ve seen all the accusations flying. I have known Tedros himself when he was a) health minister in Ethiopia and then b) foreign minister, and I’ve seen him a number of times when I’ve been in Addis over the years. So I actually don’t have the data points. And one of the reasons why we need, frankly, a UNSG high-level panel is to produce an account of this. I, I mean, I’ve seen Tedros’s visit to Beijing, I saw what he said about Xi Jinping. And but I do not know the extent to which that operationally impeded them from issuing the declarations that were eventually released or was it a bunch of other factors? So at this stage, I just give them — I won’t say the benefit of the doubt — I just say, I don’t know. That’s my honest answer to your question.
Andrew Adonis
Okay. But what you’re saying is big. You’re saying that pandemics need to be right at the centre of what the WHO do, it needs to be better funded, it needs to be more autonomous, and it needs to be more focused, and it needs to be more strongly led. I mean, those are big things that need to happen.
Kevin Rudd
The structure of funding is quite critical here when you have what is normally called the allocated funding from the UN as a proportion of UN budgetary contributions, then that goes in a non-hypothecated fashion to the WHO, which then goes to its core responsibilities, which post-48 and the institutions created have essentially been core business on pandemic management. However, when you start to have individual discretionary budgetary contributions from nation states, guess what’s happened? They walk in with their own pet projects. And so here’s an extra 200 million bucks for you, Mr Tedros, so long as you dedicate it to the future of the tsetse fly in the following latitudes for the next 10 years. Well that’s terrific, I’m sure it’s intrinsically important, but the structure of the funding actually diminishes the operational flexibility of the WHO and its Director-General to attend to its core business.
Andrew Adonis
What kind of timeline would you put on this?
Kevin Rudd
You mean a completion of a review? My own judgment is the international community will not have patience beyond 12 months from start to finish, which means getting it going now. And the reason why that’s critical is that if we look at all of our national timetables for the beginning of the ending of lockdown, before you get into the middle of the ending of lockdown, to the end of the ending of lockdown, not wish to sound like Winston Churchill here, then frankly, by the time we get to the end of calendar year 2020, we’re not going to be in much shape, a normal resumption of international reality until 2021 anyway. So if I was the SG, max 12 months, I’d try to have it out, done and dusted by the end of the year.
Andrew Adonis
By the end of this year?
Kevin Rudd
Yah.
Andrew Adonis
With a view to the fundamental reforms being made early next year? So the whole thing I’ve done with it of months?
Kevin Rudd
Yeah, yeah.
Andrew Adonis
Twleve months for review and reform?
Kevin Rudd
Yeah. I’ve worked around these things before. You can hear a lot of facts put to you, and that’s critical in terms of the essential data points, but ultimately it will be for the SG to hold the pen and to write this thing. It’s one of those things that you won’t be able to delegate. In fact, most of these high level panels, ultimately consist on a lot of people providing facts, a small number of people pontificate, and then someone deciding to exercise the draconian responsibility of writing the bloody thing. And that’s, that’s the hard bit.
Andrew Adonis
Yeah, I like the sound of all this as a timeline. Can I just inject what you’d be saying about the M7? I like the idea of this M7, the Multilateral 7, who come together, seeking to strengthen the multilateral action and of course, reforming the WHO is going to be crucial in this. How do you see the M7 working alongside a big Guterres review of the kind of just described?
Kevin Rudd
Look, for the benefit of your listeners, what I described as the Multilateral 7, hopefully they can become the magnificent seven as well, is to triage the essential institutions of global governance until once again, at some stage in the future, we have some level of functional equilibrium in geopolitics, around the balance of power between China and the United States, because at present the imbalance of power, or shall I say the contestation of the balance of power, is causing most of the institutions of global governance to become increasingly binary, bipolar, and therefore increasingly dysfunctional. So my argument against that background is the Multilateral 7 can if they pool their resources, but politically and financially and diplomatically triage these institutions, keep them alive and semi-functioning until we have a better set of arrangements in geopolitics. So their core business to begin with is to make sure the WHO continues to function, and therefore they would have to work cheek by jowl with the SG to make sure that system continues to function, while simultaneously it was under review. And the reason I randomly selected these seven was not actually a random selection, I’m looking at countries with a) critical mass, that is significant countries who’ve got chutzpah and capability, b) a predisposition based on previous postures of wanting a functional multilateral system and c) they can put some money behind it. So hence my recommendations for Germany, France, UK, Brussels, us, Japan, plus Canada, Singapore, not a G20 country, but then the future you’d need someone from Africa, someone from Latin America, South Africa, possibly Mexico in the case of Latin America, and then maybe from the the Muslim world, our friends in Indonesia, but max 10 to get things done, and critically with enough, shall we say, common thinking and common strategic planning, and common, dare I say, planning staffs working together to actually triage the system.
Andrew Adonis
You can begin to see a virtuous circle there because if the M7 is also going to be a big future, additional funder to the WHO, of course, what it would do would be to make its additional funding contingent on big reform, both through the Guterres commission or how it’s going to be called being set up, but then its recommendations for reform actually being implemented next year. That’s how the two would come together then. Is that a fair way of thinking about it?
Kevin Rudd
So that’s exactly. I mean, I would see these things as conditional. And so that, here’s a bucket of money, but it’s on the condition that the structural reforms actually occur. And, dare I say it, across the rest of the international system for other critical institutions of global governance, like, for example, the World Trade Organization, that a similar approach is adopted. And for the rest of the machinery of global governance, including UNFCCC, and one of the reasons the 10 nations — or seven to 10 nations that I’ve spoken about, M7-M10 — is that most of them come from the G20. Because ultimately, if we wish the machinery of global governance to continue to function, my argument is that most of the roadblocks that we’ve run into so far, either on climate, on trade and now on pandemics, unless you have a brokered outcome amongst a range of principal states drawn across various continents through an agency like the G20, then you end up constantly in this position whereby the tyranny of one through the principles of unanimity in UN institutions will ultimately be a recipe for nothing ever happening.
Andrew Adonis
Understood. Kevin, you said a lot of big and important things over the last 50 minutes. Just coming back to the big picture again, finally, are we on the verge of a new Cold war with China?
Kevin Rudd
The argument I put into a piece I’ve just written about the post-COVID global order in Foreign Affairs magazine in United States a few days ago, is I call it Cold War 1.5. And I’m not trying to be cute here. I’m trying to actually give it some definitional clarity. What were the characteristics of the Cold War? Mutually assured destruction. Third-country proxy wars. Thirdly, on top of that, also, you had zero economic engagement between the old Soviet Union and the United States. And then you had a full blown ideological contest. That’s essentially the fourth characteristic. Pre-COVID, what did we have? Some level of mutually assured destruction because the Chinese do have a second-strike capability in their nuclear arsenal, and they are modernizing. Secondly, you had some evidence of an emerging ideological conflict between authoritarian capitalism and state capitalism in the Chinese model versus liberal capitalism in the US and the Western model. Thirdly, however, you had no third country proxy wars, but a big question mark, which we’ve already discussed on the future evolution of the Belt and Road initiative and the extent to which it becomes militarized and countermeasures are taken against that by the United States and others. But fourthly, the big new factor is what happens with bilateral economic engagement between these two countries. decoupling during the course of the trade war in 2018-19 was a catch cry. But frankly, on the core elements of the economic relationship outside of 5G and certain key technologies was reflected in reality. But now, an extension of the technology exclusions, a real look re-examination of the extent of US and Western dependency on China for pharmaceuticals and other medical exports in the future, a breaking down of global supply chains, a greatest sense of now, national economic resilience. But here’s the big one: opening of questions now about the future of the financial market engagement between these two giant financial powers. Debates in Washington are about decoupling of US pension fund investment and Chinese equities, the future of the Chinese digital currency seeking to circumvent dollar intermediation. If you start to see decoupling reflected in financial markets, then you’re into cold war territory, because that cracks the back of the economic mainstay of the US-China relationship during all the evolutions of the last 20 years. So why do I say 1.5 as opposed to 2.0? There’s enough for me to worry about in terms of what’s now happening with the financials to suggest that there is a trend underway. And that disturbs me, because if we are then into 1.5 to 2.0, the next question is, who’s the architect of the new detente, learning from the US-Soviet Cold War model, to prevent a Cold War relationship from tripping into a Cuban Missile Crisis.
Andrew Adonis
Hmm. Well, I think I could see the title of the next Kevin Rudd book. But meanwhile, Kevin, thank you very much. Just a final personal question, when is your PhD in Oxford going to be completed? Do we all turn up for the viva?
Kevin Rudd
Oh, I hope I hope those attending the viva are in a good frame of mind for those conducting the viva because, as the former prime of a country, I have this funny feeling I might get a rougher viva than most.
Andrew Adonis
Yeah. When’s it going to be done?
Kevin Rudd
Well, according to my supervisors, I have just over 12 months, and so they keep reading the other stuff I’m writing and keep asking me for when’s the next chapter. So by the end of June, I have to have my chapter done on Xi Jinping’s report to the 19th Party Congress conducted in 2017. So I’m working my way through that as we speak. In fact, I was working on this, Andrew, just before you rang.
Andrew Adonis
Can I thank you for this interview? And also send you on behalf of all the New European readers our very, very best wishes, both in the work you’re doing internationally but also in showing those examiners in Oxford give you your just desserts.
Kevin Rudd
Thanks very well. Thank you very much, Andrew, and all the best to all of you in Europe and in Blighty.