CNN: Cold War 1.5

24 JULY 2020

Topics: US-China relations, Australia’s coronavirus second wave

BECKY ANDERSON: Kevin Rudd is the president of the Asia Society Policy Institute and he’s joining us now from the Sunshine Coast in Australia. It’s great to have you. This type of rhetoric you say is not new. But it does feel like we are approaching a precipitous point.

KEVIN RUDD: Well Becky, I think there’s been a lot of debate in recent months as to whether we’re on the edge of a new Cold War between China and the United States. Rather than being Cold War 2.0, I basically see it as Cold War 1.5. That is, it’s sliding in that direction, and sliding rapidly in that direction. But we’re by no means there yet. And one of the reasons we’re not there yet is because of the continued depth and breadth of the economic relationship between China and the United States, which was never the case, in terms of the historical relationship, between the United States and the Soviet Union during the first Cold War. That may change, but that I think is where we are right now.

ANDERSON: We haven’t seen an awful lot of retaliation nor very much of a narrative really from Beijing in response to some of this US anti-China narrative. What do you expect next from Beijing?

RUDD: Well, in terms of the consulate general, I think as night follows day, you’re likely to see either a radical reduction in overall American diplomatic staff numbers in China and consular staff numbers, or the direct reciprocal action, which would close for example, the US Consulate General in perhaps Chengdu or Wuhan or in Shenyang, somewhere like that. But this as you said before in your introduction, Becky, forms just one part of a much broader deterioration relationship. I’ve been observing the US-China relationship for the better part of 35 years. Really, since Nixon and Kissinger first went to Beijing in 1971/1972. This is the low point, the lowest point of the US-China relationship in now half a century. And it’s only heading in one direction. Is there an exit ramp? Open question. But the dynamics both in Beijing and in Washington are pulling this relationship right apart, and that leaves third countries in an increasingly difficult position.

ANDERSON: Yes, and I wanted to talk to you about that because Australia is continually torn between the sort of economic relationship with China that it has, and its strategic partnership with the US. We have seen the US to all intents and purposes, leaning on the UK over Huawei. How should other countries engage with China going forward?

RUDD: Well, one thing I think is to understand that Xi Jinping’s China is quite different from the China of Hu Jintao, Jiang Zemin or even Deng Xiaoping. And since Xi Jinping took over in 2012/2013, it’s a much more assertive China, right across the board. And even in this COVID reality of 2020, we see not just the Hong Kong national security legislation, we see new actions by China in the South China Sea, against Taiwan, against Japan, in the East China Sea, on the Sino-Indian border, and the frictions with Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom – you’ve just mentioned – and elsewhere as well. So, this is a new, assertive China – quite different from the one we’ve seen in the past. So, your question is entirely valid – how do, as it were, the democracies of Asia and the democracies of Europe and elsewhere respond to this new phenomenon on the global stage? I think it’s along these lines. Number one, be confident in the position which democracies have, that we believe in universal values, and human rights and democracy. And we’re not about to change. Number two, many of us, whether we’re in Asia or Europe, or longstanding allies, the United States, that’s not about change. But number three, to make it plain to our Chinese friends that on a reciprocal basis, we wish to have a mutually productive trade, investment, and capital markets relationship. And four, the big challenges of global governance – whether it’s pandemics, or climate change, or stability of global financial markets, and the current crisis we have around the world – where it is incumbent on all of us to work together. I think those four principles form a basis for us dealing with Xi Jinping’s China.

ANDERSON: Kevin, do you see this as a Cold War?

RUDD: As I said before, we’re trending that way. As I said, the big difference between the Soviet Union and the United States is that China and the United States are deeply economically in mesh and have become that way over the last 20 years or so. And that never was the case in the old Cold War. Secondly, in the old Cold War, we basically had a strategic relationship of mutually assured destruction, which came to the flashpoint of the Cuban Missile Crisis in the early 1960s. That’s not the case either. But I’ve got to say in all honesty, it’s trending in a fundamentally negative direction, and when we start to see actions like shutting down each other’s consulate generals, that does remind me of where we got to in the last Cold War as well. There should be an exit ramp, but it’s going to require a new strategic framework for the US-China relationship, based on what I describe as: manage strategic competition between these two powers, where each side’s red lines are well recognized, understood and observed – and competition occurs, as it were, in all other domains. At present, we don’t seem to have parameters or red lines at all.

ANDERSON: And we might have had this discussion four or five months ago. The new layer of course, is the coronavirus pandemic and the way that the US has responded which you say has provided an opportunity for the Chinese to steal a march on the US with regard to its position and its power around the world. Is Beijing, do you think – if you believe that there is a power vacuum at present after this coronavirus response – is Beijing taking advantage of that vacuum?

RUDD: Well, when the coronavirus broke out, China was, by definition, in a defensive position, because the virus came from Wuhan, and therefore, as the virus then spread across the world, China found itself in a deeply problematic position – not just the damage to its economy at home – but frankly its reputation abroad as well. However, President Trump’s America has demonstrated to the world that a) his administration can’t handle the virus within the United States itself, and b) there has been a phenomenal lack of American global leadership in dealing with the public health and global economic dimensions of – let’s call it the COVID-19 crisis – across the world. So, the argument that I’m attracted to is that both these great powers have been fundamentally damaged by the coronavirus crisis that has inflicted the world. So the challenge for the future is whether in fact we a) see a change in administration in Washington with Biden, and secondly, whether a democrat administration will choose to reassert American global leadership through the institutions of global governance, where frankly, the current administration has left so many vacuums across the UN system and beyond it. And that remains the open question – which I think the international community is focusing on – as we move towards that event in November, when the good people the United States cast their ballot.

ANDERSON: Yeah, no fascinating. I’ll just stick to the coronavirus for a final question for you and thank you for this sort of wide-ranging discussion. Australia, of course, applauded for its ability to act fast and flatten its coronavirus curve back in April. That has all been derailed. We’ve seen a second wave. It’s worse than the first. Earlier this week, the country reporting its worst day since the pandemic began despite new tough restrictions. What do you believe it will take to flatten the curve again? And are you concerned that the situation in Australia is slipping out of control?

RUDD: What the situation in the state of Victoria and the city of Melbourne in particular demonstrates is what we see in so many countries around the world, which is the ease with which a second wave effect can be made manifest. It’s not just of course in Australia. We see evidence of this in Hong Kong. We see it in other countries, where in fact, the initial management of the crisis was pretty effective. What the lesson of Melbourne, and the lesson of Victoria is for all of us, is that when it comes to maintaining the disciplines of social distancing, of proper quarantine arrangements, as well as contact tracing and the rest, that there is no, as it were, release of our discipline applied to these challenges. And in the case of Victoria, it was in Melbourne – it was simply a poor application of quarantine arrangements in a single hotel, or Australians returning from elsewhere in the world, that led to this community-level transmission. And that can happen in the northern part of the United Kingdom. It can happen in regional France; it can happen anywhere in Germany. What’s the message? Vigilance across the board, until we can eliminate this thing. We’ve still got a lot to learn from Jacinda Ardern’s success in New Zealand in virtually eliminating this virus altogether.

ANDERSON: With that, we’re going to leave it there. Kevin Rudd, former Prime Minister of Australia, it’s always a pleasure. Thank you very much indeed for joining us.

RUDD: Good to be with you.

ANDERSON: Extremely important subject, US-China relations at present.