Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd AC emphasised the importance of a positive Australia-China relationship at a Griffith University public lecture on September 4.
Addressing a capacity crowd at the Queensland College of Art, Mr Rudd suggested ways in which the coalition could successfully navigate its relationship with China at a time when relations were already tense between the United States and the Asian superpower.
“I fear we have become the complacent country – complacent about the many great political, economic, social, environmental and security challenges that now threaten our future,” Mr Rudd said.
He said he wanted to address “alternative visions for our future in the region” with “China’s rise and given America’s response to it” by outlining ten major challenges for Australia and potential solutions.
The challenges ranged from an unfolding global technology revolution and climate change, to strong and long-term economic growth, social policy challenges, failure to prepare sufficiently for an ageing population and the polarisation of our democracies between rich and poor.
Specifically, Mr Rudd said Australia needed to be aware of the challenge of a fragmenting global order driven in part by China’s rise, an increasingly isolationist America and a divided Europe.
He also said there was “increasing polarisation of our region between Chinese and American spheres of geo-strategic and economic influence, reducing the freedom of policy manoeuvre for regional states as they seek to secure their own futures.”
However, he noted “hysteria” had turned the country’s working relationship with China from a “three out of ten operational challenge” into a perceived “nine out of ten existential threat”.
Mr Rudd outlined the strategies of both China and the United States, along with Australian Policy before suggesting solutions.
“The most important thing about having a national China strategy is to have one,” he said.
“At present, we do not. I would say… to be very careful about simply seeing the China relationship as a domestic political tool to use in either intra or inter-party politics.”
Mr Rudd advised the Federal Government needed analytical consensus on the future content and direction of US and Chinese strategy – including that of a post-Trump administration.
“A balanced national strategy for dealing with China, managed through the framework of a coherent national China strategy, is difficult but do-able.”
He said embracing “constructive realism” was essential to a successful national China strategy.
“Constructive realism is about (being) realistic about where we fundamentally disagree with China and where the diplomatic challenge is to manage these disagreements peacefully; constructive about where it’s difficult but nonetheless do-able to work together on common challenges as well as constructive in those areas where we should be working together as a matter of course.”