CNN, CONNECT THE WORLD
19 JUNE 2020
Topics: Human rights, John Bolton, US-China relations, US Election 2020
Joining me now is Kevin Rudd, former prime minister of Australia and current president of the Asia Society Policy Institute. Thanks for being with us. I want to first get your reaction to one of the other allegations in the book, that Donald Trump agreed with Xi Jinping on the idea of building detainment camps for minority Uighur Muslims. What did you make of that?
Well ultimately none of us know what transpired between John Bolton, the National Security Adviser and President Trump. But the bottom line is we’ve got to ask ourselves, what would be Mr Bolton’s motivation in telling abject lies, given that once the documents are eventually released from the US administration, then he’ll be proven to be either truthful or not. So the international community, I think, is fairly stunned by this. But we’ve also known that President Trump throughout his presidency has shown scant regard for international human rights diplomacy. He also has a particular attitude that we’ve seen in relation to Muslims around the world. And for those reasons, therefore, it is shocking, but not necessarily surprising, that President Trump would say something like this.
Well, and the notion also that Trump would have asked China for help in winning re-election in 2020. He publicly asked Russia to hack Democratic emails in 2016. He admitted to essentially the content of the conversation with the Ukrainian president that led to his impeachment. So it’s rather easy to believe when Bolton writes that Trump asked for China’s help in winning the 2020 election, but I want to ask you about some of these other aspects of the book. CNN got an advanced copy. On his way to the Helsinki meeting, Trump stopped to see then British Prime Minister Theresa May in the UK and, during that meeting, May’s National Security Adviser speaking about the Skripal poisoning in Salisbury a few years ago referred to the attack as one on a nuclear power. “Trump asked, ‘oh, are you a nuclear power?’ which I knew was not intended as a joke”, Bolton wrote. So assuming that this is true, have you in your time as prime minister encountered world leaders that were so ignorant about international affairs and yet were put in such a position of authority?
I think we have to really go back a bit. I think Ronald Reagan, as we recall, was sometimes sketchy on aspects of international relations, and which country was which and Latin America when he was visiting there, but to be ignorant of Britain’s nuclear power status, given that been a fact by and large since the Second World War, and underpins the reality of Britain being a permanent member of the Security Council of the United Nations, for me, it’s passing strange that three and a half years into the presidency or however long it was, when he went and had this meeting with Theresa May, it basically is pretty jaw-dropping. But if I can just retreat to the China question, briefly, you see the China revelations for me are stunning if they are in fact true. We’ve discussed the Xinjiang account from Mr Bolton. You’ve made reference to the account concerning President Trump’s interest in Xi Jinping, helping him out with agricultural sales from the United States in the lead up to the presidential election. The other account according to Mr Bolton’s book, is about the President’s admiration for Xi Jinping having removed a two-term limit, and looking quizzically at the possibility of extending a two-term limit United States. Here is the bottom line in China, which I spend a fair bit of time in, there is a general view amongst the Chinese think tank community that the best thing that could happen for China would still be for President Trump to be re-elected. And there are two reasons for that. One is he has consistently through his own interventions derailed the rest of the US administration’s hardline anti-China strategy, and we can point to one example after another of that. But secondly, the other big interest from China’s perspective is this: President Trump does such damage globally to American alliance solidarity around the world, both in Europe and in Asia, that this is a net strategic win for China, having him continue in office. And furthermore, him undertaking wholesale assault on the multilateral system which America set up in the first place, withdrawing America from multiple bodies, such as the World Trade Organisation, etc, as China then just marches in to fill in the vacuum. So what does China want? In my judgment what China wants despite all the sound and noise and all the pyrotechnics we hear from the Trump White House, is that they probably on balance prefer to see Trump re-elected.
Alright, that’s actually interesting because Wednesday, Donald Trump signed a bill to punish China for Uighur persecution, perhaps a reaction to some of these allegations in the Bolton book, and also this trade dispute is really hurting China. But you think despite that, if Joe Biden were elected, China would probably think it wouldn’t be as easy strategically for it to assert itself on the global stage?
Well if we look for example, at the Xinjiang Human Rights Policy Act which has just gone through the United States Congress and, as you just said, President Trump has now signed into law. It would be very difficult for him not to do so given it has bipartisan support of such an extraordinary level of votes in the US Congress, both in the House and in the Senate. But I think overall, when the Chinese look at that, they’ll say, well, you see a hardening of American positions against China in general, both Republicans and Democrats, but here’s the difference: their deep-level assessment is that under the Democrats and under a Biden administration, they would be put together a foreign policy and national security policy team and an international economic policy team, which is much more likely to give effect to a strategy for dealing with China than they have experienced with President Trump. In other words, you would have a president marching in step with the other arms of a Biden administration. That is something which would cause the Chinese, frankly, deep concerns. But what we’ve got now still is this several months between where we are at the moment and the presidential election. And those of us have been watching carefully the meeting between Secretary of State Pompeo and Yang Jiechi from the Chinese government have been particularly concerned about what might still happen by way of deep and disturbing crisis escalation, particularly over Taiwan and Hong Kong, in the remaining several months.
Kevin Rudd, thank you so much for joining us. The former Australian Prime Minister there with more reaction to these allegations in the upcoming John Bolton book, thank you so much for joining us.