Khilola’s Review of Rudd Report

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Kevin Rudd (2015), U.S.-China 21, Toward a new framework of constructive realism for a common purpose

Review by Khilola B Zakhidova, 2 March 2016

China has been a prominent feature in news headlines this year. In January, a radical drop in the Chinese stock market triggered global market volatility. Manufacturing statistics, released shortly thereafter, further gloomed market confidence, as official figures confirmed what analysts had long predicted – after years of double-digit growth, China’s economy was, in fact, slowing down. Officials in China have framed this slowdown as the “New Normal,” a transition from an export-led growth towards a growth driven by domestic consumption, R&D, innovation and a strong services sector. This transition will certainly not happen overnight, but on a larger, long-term scale, it will create new policy challenges for China’s trade partners in Asia, Europe and North America.

And this is what brings me to introduce to you a recent report on the future of U.S.-China relations by the former Prime Minister of Australia, the Hon. Kevin Rudd, who is currently a fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center. Two things to keep in mind while analyzing Rudd’s foreign policy proposals: 1) Kevin Rudd gets China – he studied Chinese history under imminent scholars and is fluent in Mandarin. 2) Australia’s foreign policy has been “stuck” between two poles – the U.S, as the country’s indispensable ally – and – China, on which the country’s economy overwhelmingly depends.

The main argument in Rudd’s paper is that the future of the relationship between the U.S. and China will affect us all, in ways we never thought of. The water we drink, the food we eat, the languages we speak, the jobs we have and the political systems which succeed – all of these things depend on how the United States and China will engage with each other in this century.

Despite the slowdown in its GDP growth from double digits to an estimated 7% per annum, China is still posed to overcome the U.S. as the largest economy in the world. To be able to accept this new economic reality, the U.S. needs to learn to respectfully deal with a non-English speaking, non-western, non-liberal democracy. Current policy debates on China need to focus on the potential of China, rather than on the threats it is perceived to pose to other countries and economies. Policymakers in both countries need to be realistic about the things they disagree on, and manage them constructively. Unless this policy shift happens now, the two countries may not be able to carve-out a common future and will fall into the Thucydides trap – a condition when a rising power rivals a ruling power. In Rudd’s mind, without constructive realism now, China and the U.S. are destined for war.

The key policy takeaways from reading this report? China is already important today, and will become even more important in the future. To get it right, we need to understand and accept how policymaking works in that country and get along to get things done together.

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Should Rudd’s analysis fail at convincing China sceptics, there is always the option to resort to some wisdom imparted by a lead Republican presidential candidate all the way back in 2011:

“I know the Chinese. I’ve made a lot of money with the Chinese. I understand the Chinese mind.” (Donald Trump in an interview with Xinhua News, the Chinese State news agency, according to the Los Angles Times, at http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/washington/2011/05/donald-trump-i-understand-the-chinese-mind.html, accessed 2 March 2016.)

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified 2 March 2016.

Image: Harvard Kennedy School, at http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/files/Summary%20Report%20US-China%2021.pdf, accessed 2 March 2016.