Patrice Riemens on Mon, 21 Apr 2008 20:58:14 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Australia's PM Kevin Rudd ('Lu Kewen') makes a splash in China on Tibet.

bwo the Sarai Reader list/ Sonia Jabbar

PM makes great leap on China
The Australian  [Saturday, April 12, 2008 18:16]
By Greg Sheridan

LU Kewen, as our Prime Minister is known to tens of millions in
Mandarin, is usually no Red Guard.

In fact, he is a counter-revolutionary, having written his honours
thesis admiringly on the famous Chinese dissident Wei Jingsheng,
who wrote a brilliant large character wall poster on the 'fifth
modernisation': democracy, which China's leaders have refused to
embrace as part of their economic modernisation.

But Kevin Rudd this week has produced his own cultural revolution. He
may have transformed the way the world deals with China. He may have
produced a great leap forward in the broad international project of
making China a normal nation.

For Rudd has shown the world that it is possible to be a good friend
of China and still speak to the Chinese leadership frankly and in
public about its appalling human rights practices. This is a profound

Let no one tell you it is not a change from the past. I am sure
Australian officialdom advised against this approach and it is a
radical departure from the practice of John Howard, who preferred to
concentrate on what he and the Chinese had in common.

Australian officials may perversely try to play down the radical
nature of what Rudd did. Don't buy it. That is a nonsense

No Western leader, with the partial exception of US presidents, does
what Rudd did this week: criticise the Chinese over human rights
abuses in Tibet before he arrives, in fact in a joint press conference
with US President George W. Bush. Repeat the criticism in London.
Absorb furious official Chinese protests in Beijing and Canberra, then
go to China and repeat the offence in public, in front of a Chinese

It's true that the Chinese censored this part of Rudd's speech at
Beijing University. That is not the point. The Chinese were ropeable
at Rudd's statement and millions of Chinese will hear about it one
way and another. It figured prominently in CNN and BBC reports this
week, as well as coverage by Deutsche Welle and countless other news
services. I myself did an interview with Al Jazeera's global audience
explaining Rudd's statements. These statements featured heavily in The
Economist, as they did in newspapers and journals across the world.
Given the internet, much of this finds its way back to the Chinese

Nonetheless, Rudd had a positive visit to China. Although the
Chinese leadership was furious with him and took the unusual step
of having party spokesmen denounce Rudd's views while he was in
China, nonetheless it continued with the positive side of the visit,
simultaneously embracing and honouring Rudd as it denounced his views.
This is why his performance constitutes a cultural revolution in doing
business with China.

His approach, of course, was immensely sophisticated. In his speech at
Beijing University he said he wanted to be a zhengyou to China. This
Chinese term means a friend who is such a good friend that he will
tell you unpleasant truths. This is where Rudd's approach, which was
very high risk, much higher risk than anyone will now admit, has paid
off handsomely, indeed beyond anyone's wildest dreams before the trip

In his speech to the Chinese students Rudd suggested the marriage of
two concepts. One was the official Chinese description of its national
development as a 'peaceful rise' or 'peaceful development' or more
recently promoting a 'harmonious world'. The other was the formulation
of former US deputy secretary of state Bob Zoellick that China should
become a responsible stakeholder in the global order.

The next sentence of Rudd's was critical. He said: "The idea of a
'harmonious world' depends on China being a participant in the world
order and, along with others, acting in accordance with the rules of
that order. Failing this, harmony is impossible to achieve."

As much as his comments on Tibet, this sentence produced a stony
silence in Rudd's listeners. But this goes to the very nub of how the
world deals with China.

The best way to treat China is as a normal nation, which has the
normal rights and responsibilities of any other nation, which plays a
role in the world commensurate with its importance and standing, and
which honours basic norms of civilised behaviour and the international

The Chinese, for the past 30 years, have been pulling a confidence
trick by claiming that previous Western colonisation of China means
that any Western criticism hurts the feelings of the Chinese people.
The resort to crude nationalism and old-fashioned communist propaganda
is evident in the reaction of China's state-controlled media to the
worldwide demonstrations in favour of human rights in Tibet. To
express concern for the human rights of Chinese citizens, in this
twisted world view, is to be anti-Chinese.

China's apologists in Australia often reinforce this paradigm by their
support of the 'whateverist' school. Whatever the Chinese Government
does is right and any criticism of it is wrong. Sometimes this is
justified as being sensitive to China; at other times it's defended
with a kind of tawdry ersatz realism: China is too big to offend.

Rudd has completely transcended this sterile paradigm and he has
done so while moving forward on a positive agenda with China. Rudd's
positive agenda was solid. He got a climate change co-operation
agreement and the establishment of several new co-operative bodies on
it, one at ministerial level. He got an agreement to work together on
reducing deforestation which, if you are serious about climate change,
is vital. And he got agreement to inject new political energy into the
free trade agreement negotiations between Canberra and Beijing.

He also made various economic representations to the Chinese
and prosecuted a lot of other business. It's not absolutely
earth-shattering but it is more than respectable. But to do it while
publicly criticising the Chinese over human rights and telling them
that they have to abide by the rules of the global system: that is
earth-shattering and unprecedented.

The Chinese will not like it much because it tells other Western
leaders that they do not need to be so mealy-mouthed as they normally
are with the Chinese. Of course China badly wants Australia's
resources, so Rudd was in the strong position of not going to China as
a mendicant with a beggar's bowl.

Similarly, his Mandarin language and his undeniable love of Chinese
culture provided the best possible context for his harder messages
to Beijing. But, still, there was no guarantee at all that the
Chinese would not react by cancelling his high-level appointments and
humiliating him.

It may be that circumstances partly pushed Rudd into having to make
public statements on Tibet. But he could have wimped out of it without
any serious political damage in Australia. Rudd took a risk for human
rights and it was a well-judged risk.

Whether his cultural revolution represents a new international pattern
of a more normal China or whether it is a false spring, soon to be
followed by a new wind of Chinese hostility, is perhaps now the most
fascinating question.

Greg Sheridan is the most influential foreign affairs commentator in
Australia. A veteran of over 30 years in the field, he has written five
books and is a frequent commentator on Australian and international radio
and TV.

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