The Honorable Kevin Rudd: Alastair Buchan Memorial Lecture

THE CENTRAL QUESTION OF OUR TIME: The Impact of the Rise of China on the 21st Century Order 

16 December 2013 – International Institute of Strategic Studies

I am honoured to have been invited by the International Institute of Strategic Studies to deliver this year’s Alastair Buchan Lecture, named in honour of the Institute’s inaugural director.

I am also honoured to be the first Australian to deliver this lecture.

Of course, Arundel House here on London’s embankment is very close to my family’s old stamping ground: just up the road is the Old Bailey where my 18th Century forebear appeared before the beak; then just across the road to Newgate where for a time he was a guest of His Majesty’s Government; before then being embarked onto hulks on the River Thames; before finally making the distant colony of New South Wales on the Second Fleet in 1790.

So yes, John, like so many of my countrymen, my convict lineage is clear.

But with the passage of generations, it is probably unnecessary to take extra precautions later this evening with the silverware over dinner.

As with the Ashes, we Australians are always capable of recognising the errors of our ways, then finding the pathway to redemption.

Of course many more distinguished Australians over the decades have had a close association with this Institute.

Dr Robert O’Neill, an eminent military historian, who later rose to become Director of the Institute.

And in an earlier period, we cannot ever forget the contribution of Dr Hedley Bull, in honour of whose legacy I was delighted to open the new Hedley Bull Centre on International Relations at the Australian National University in Canberra.

Hedley also happened to be the doctoral supervisor of the current Director of the IISS, Dr John Chipman.

John told me recently that one of Hedley’s sterling qualities was to insist that his students did not simply produce elegantly footnoted descriptions of well-established positions, insisting this was no substitute for the basic need to ‘think, think and think’.

I believe at times like this, in the great flux and dramatic change that we now see across the face of contemporary international relations, that it is more important now, than at any time since the end of the Cold War, for both practitioners and theorists alike, to take Hedley Bull’s dictum seriously and to ‘think, think and think’ about the deep nature of the great changes unfolding around us, and what we should do about them.

I believe the single, great challenge of our age is the rise of China and its impact on the current international order.

There is a great danger that in our current state of flux, we are side-tracked by the endless series of ‘international events’, each of which legitimately commands our attention, while rarely standing back and thinking objectively about the mega changes unfolding before us; and then to think creatively about the strategic diplomacy to which these changes should give rise.

The purpose of my lecture tonight is to pose a number of fundamental questions which demand answers in the immediate period ahead; and to begin to provide the broadest possible outlines as to what those answers might contain.

• First, will China’s economic and political rise be sustainable over the next third of a century, as it has proven to be over the last third; is China likely to obtain economic parity with the United States, and over the longer term, conventional military power parity as well; and where do
these objectives lie within the competing priorities of Chinese Statecraft under newly-appointed President Xi Jinping;
• Second, does China have a strategic blueprint for the future political, economic and security architecture of the Asian hemisphere; if so, what is it?; if not, is it developing one; and how should we respond; and
• Third, are we beginning to see the emergence of a Chinese strategic blueprint for how China might seek to change the global rules-based order in the future, for which what happens in Asia may represent a template; and how in turn should the international community respond.

These I believe are the three sets of core questions which should now be central to the pre-occupation of planning staffs across the world.

The truth is, what we are observing now is the largest geo-economic, geo-political and possibly geo- strategic change in the global distribution of power since the rise of the United States during the last third of the 19th Century.

Put more starkly, when China in purchasing power parity terms surpasses the United States as the world largest economy during the next decade this will be the first time since George III that the world’s largest economy will be non-English speaking, non-Western and non-democratic.

And as all of us who are keen students of diplomatic history, strategic studies and international relations know, it is economic power in all of its dimensions that ultimately shapes strategic power and, therefore, political power.

Therefore, whatever changes to the current order may be being brought about as a result of the rise of China, and whether these changes are regarded as being benign, malign or neither, they are changes nonetheless which will require the same level of forensic analysis across the world, as has long been occurring in the think tanks of the Middle Kingdom itself.

And my central argument is that despite all the tempting distractions elsewhere around the international conference circuit, both the magnitude of the changes on the way, and the fact that they are beginning to reach crescendo as we speak, demand that we dedicate our collective resources to this central task of the Century.

I also argue that at this stage, there is sufficient confluence between Chinese and Western interests and values concerning the future of the international order that together, we can construct a common path through; and one which preserves the fundamentals of the post-war order while at the same time having a much greater range of voices at the international table.

This, however, will not happen by accident.

It will not happen by default.

Nor will it happen as a consequence of policy indolence, policy inertia, or simply strategic drift.

So mine tonight is primarily a call to action, not directed at our military planners, but rather directed at our policy planners, our think tanks and the academy to help shape our pathway through this unfolding period of potentially tumultuous transition.

If we do this together, through robust, realist exchange with our Chinese counterparts, then there are, I believe, real grounds for optimism for the future.

Chinese Power

China is a nation of anniversaries.

Next year will mark the 65th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

In 2021, China will celebrate the centenary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party.

And of course 2049 will mark the centenary of People’s China.

The latter two anniversaries have become the focal point of what President Xi Jinping calls the ‘dual- centenary goals’.

By 2021, the goal is to ‘complete the building of a moderately prosperous society in all respects’.

Whereas for 2049, the goal is ‘to have built a modern socialist country that is strong, prosperous, democratic, culturally-advanced and harmonious’.

Both these goals are in turn anchored in what President Xi Jinping describes as his ‘dream’ for China’s future (Zhongguo Meng) – achieving the great renewal or renaissance (Fu Xing) of the Chinese Nation.

Westerners tend to dismiss such language, describing it as clunky in the extreme and ultimately meaningless. But given China is a rising power, and this is the language they choose to use to communicate with one another, we are required to do better than that and to deconstruct its content.

Removed of its linguistic peculiarities, what is meant here is very simple; the People’s Republic of China, by the centenary of its founding, intends to restore itself to the global position of pre-eminence that it once enjoyed in Imperial times.

This has now become the galvanising principle of Chinese statecraft, both at home and abroad.

As President Xi’s principal foreign policy adviser, State Councilor Yang Jiechi, wrote recently, ‘Comrade Xi Jinping’s comprehensive… description of the Chinese dream is a continuation and development of the important thinking of China’s peaceful development (Heping Fazjhan) in the new era’.

In the Chinese conceptual world, ‘peaceful development’ is seen as the means by which to effect the realisation of the Chinese dream.

This concept of ‘peaceful development’ is designed to assuage China’s neighbours and other international partners that China’s rise will only be obtained by peaceful means.

This formulation is in turn also designed to specifically contrast with the non-peaceful rise of Japan over the half century from 1895-1945.

This concept is not only to provide comfort to the international community that China will only prosecute what is described as a ‘win-win’ strategy; it is also designed to deal with China’s own strategic imperatives.

As State Councilor Yang writes elsewhere in his article entitled, ‘Innovation in China’s diplomatic theory and practice under new conditions’: ‘The Chinese dream requires a peaceful and stable international and neighbouring environment and China is therefore committed to realising its dream through peaceful development’.

In other words, China is communicating loudly and clearly, to both its military audience at home and the international community abroad, that its own development prospects would be derailed if it found itself, for example, in conflict with the United States.

I have dwelt on these Chinese terms at some length here so that the international community can understand the centrality of these concepts as organising principles for Chinese international and domestic behaviour for the decade ahead.

I said before that China is a nation of anniversaries. China is also a nation much given to political periodisation to emphasise the importance of what they have embarked upon now, across the full sweep of Chinese history.

Under Xi Jinping’s leadership, Chinese commentary describes the country as having entered the third period of its first centenary.

The first, the 30 years between 1949 and 1978, was dedicated to the practical tasks of the political establishment of the People’s Republic.

The second, from 1979 until 2012, is seen as the great period of domestic economic reform, and the internationalisation of the Chinese economy.

The third, now described as a ‘new era’, will be dominated by the transformation of China’s economic growth model, as agreed at the 2013 Party Plenum, which is deemed to be necessary for China to achieve its dual-centenary goals.

The previous growth model, based on high levels of state investment in State Owned Enterprises, combined with low wage, labour-intensive manufacturing for export, has served China well for three decades but rising wage levels now render it increasingly redundant.

The new growth model, by contrast, is based on private domestic consumption rather than public fixed capital investment, as the major driver of growth.

The commercialisation, according to market principles, of China’s SOE sector is to increase allocative efficiency within the economy, as well as providing greater space for private enterprise.

These are then combines with a third pillar of the new growth model, the explosion of the services sector in urban China – China’s cities now accounting for more than half of the country’s population.

Across Chinese political elites, there is also a palpable sense of ‘ten lost years of economic reform’ under the previous political duumvirate of Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao.

As a result, President Xi Jinping is very much a man in a hurry.

Within this framework, I argue that Xi Jinping has five key priorities for the decade ahead that, by precedent, he is likely to occupy the Presidency.

First, Xi Jinping intends to rehabilitate the Communist Party as a viable, long-term governing force for China.

He is a party idealist who wants to clean up Party corruption and restore public confidence in the Party as a credible political institution – not just the deliverer of economic growth; nor simply the enforcer of public order.

Anyone who believes that Xi Jinping is China’s Gorbachev is wrong.

Similarly, anyone who believes there is some secret plan to incrementally democratise China (in the direction of elected, representative democracy) is also just plain wrong.

When Chinese leaders talk about democratic reform, they are essentially talking about administrative reform within the Party itself, or among the various departments of State, rather than anything more fundamental.

Xi Jinping and those around him believe that a reformed party cannot only survive but prosper for decades to come.

As to whether Xi can ultimately resist what is commonly seen as the irreversible historic tide of economic liberalisation on the one hand, leading to political liberalisation on the other, remains to be seen. His direction, nonetheless, is clear.

Second, Xi Jinping has embarked upon the most vigorous consolidation of his personal political power that we have seen since the rise of Deng Xiaoping 35 years ago.

Xi Jinping, within the space of 12 months, has become much, much more than ‘primus inter pares’.

Instead, through a combination of party rectification movements, the use of ‘criticism and self-criticism’ sessions, the incarceration of political opponents for corruption, and the concentration of economic, political and strategic decision-making powers within his office, Xi has emerged as the single most powerful Chinese political leader since Deng.

This concentration of power is designed to enable Xi to navigate some of the difficult political and policy shoals that lie ahead during the implementation of China’s new economic growth model.

Third, the central political priority for Xi Jinping, as noted above, is the implementation of the new growth model itself.

Xi is not a convert to economic neo-liberalism as a driving force of his personal political philosophy.

Rather, Xi has concluded that the further deep reform of the Chinese economy across manufacturing, the financial services sector and a new approach to competition policy, together with a greater global role for the Chinese currency, are essential if China is to become a wealthy and powerful (Fu Qiang) nation.

I believe Xi Jinping has made the calculated choice that it is worthwhile running the risk of creating economic and social forces less amenable to State direction over time, in order to secure the long term objective of realising his dream of a strong, powerful and wealthy China.

In this sense, Xi Jinping is not a neo-liberal. He is a Chinese nationalist. And he comes from a long line of Chinese nationalist reformers over the last 100 years.

Fourth, as noted above, for China to achieve its national economic objectives, it requires a further decade of strategic stability both in its immediate region and the wider world.

Conflict or war would simply derail the successful implementation of the new Chinese growth model.

Besides, Chinese military planners are sufficiently sophisticated to have concluded that any military engagement involving the United States at this stage would almost inevitably result in China losing.

And such a loss would have devastating political consequences for China’s leadership.

At the same time, China will continue the large scale modernisation of its military capabilities and doctrine against future strategic contingencies involving the United States and its allies, both within and beyond the so-called second island chain.

While it has yet to be formally written, it is often spoken in Beijing that by 2021 (the first of Xi Jinping’s anniversaries) China will have surpassed in PPP terms the United States as the world’s largest economy. This will be the cause not only of great Chinese national celebration. It will also be interpreted as the legitimation of long term Communist Party rule.

And while it has also yet to be written, it is occasionally spoken in Beijing that by the second national anniversary in 2049 it is hoped that China will have achieved conventional military parity with the United States.

Fifth, despite the economic imperative of maintaining strategic stability for the decade ahead, China nonetheless does not believe it has the domestic political flexibility in the years to come to compromise in any way on what it often articulates as its core territorial interests, namely:

• Secessionist tendencies in Tibet;
• Terrorist and secessionist activity in Xinjiang;
• Territorial disputes in the East China Sea, primarily with Japan but also with Korea;
• Any move away from the process of eventual reunification with Taiwan; and
• Outstanding territorial disputes in the South China Sea principally with Vietnam and the Philippines, but also with other Aseans.

Each of these theatres has it individual complexities. But there is a deep belief across the Chinese political system that no Chinese political leader would be able to sustain a backwards step on any of them.

Therefore, as we approach the decade ahead when Xi Jinping, barring political or natural disaster, will remain in office, it is important for all of us to think through carefully these core animating principals of Chinese politics and policy for the foreseeable future.

On the critical question that I posed above as to whether the juggernaut of Chinese growth will continue unabated, it is, of course, impossible to project with absolute certainty.

Nonetheless, we should be acutely conscience of how China has managed to come so far over the last 30 years, when so many in the Western analytical community had concluded that this would be impossible in the absence of fundamental political implosion or major systemic economic road blocks.

As of today, Chinese statecraft seems to have successfully negotiated China through all of the above, to the extent now that it is difficult to point to a single economic, strategic, political or other policy domain in which China has objectively already become a major power by global standards.

I’m acutely conscious of all that could go wrong for the Chinese leadership (from a second global economic meltdown, to domestic land, water and environmental crises, through to sustained alienation of the population from the political authority of the Chinese Communist Party).

Given recent history, however, it is both historically unempirical, and in policy planning terms totally imprudent, to agree with the so-called ‘China collapse’ theory.

This often strikes me as the product of wishful thinking by some, rather than a dispassionate analysis of the trend lines, and the capacity of Chinese statecraft to respond before crises reach their tipping points.

Beyond all these factors, however, it is simply bad policy to assume the probability of a worse-case scenario outcome for China’s long term economic and military growth.

Proper, sober long term policy planning requires us to assume the reverse.

The rise of China and the future of American power

At the centre of China’s analysis of its future national and international interests is the question of American power.

This impacts China directly, as well as its freedom for manoeuvre within the Asian hemisphere, and its influence in re-shaping the future global order.

In terms of international relations theory, China has a predominantly realist view of the world.

It is within this framework that they carefully calibrate the various indices of their own national power.

It is also the framework through which they calculate the power of others, most principally the United States.

China over the last half decade has become increasingly contemptuous of the future trajectory of American economic power.

China has concluded that American politics has become systemically dysfunctional and incapable, therefore, of allowing the executive arm of Government to take the hard decisions necessary to secure America’s economic and strategic future.

Prior to the Global Financial Crisis, China was deeply respectful of the capacity of Western, democratic, capitalist economies to continue to generate wealth and power.

Both the crisis and its aftermath, and its enduring legacies of high debt and low growth, have caused many in the Chinese leadership to conclude that the US economy is in structural decline – and no longer possessing the political capacity to arrest that decline through structural reform.

The same cannot be said of the US military, of which the Chinese remain deeply respectful.

Chinese military strategy in the first place is one of area denial in order to disrupt or prevent effective American military intervention in support of Taiwan.

In prosecuting this strategy over recent decades, China as a consequence has also acquired capabilities to project power beyond the so-called second island chain into the Pacific.

However, as noted above, Chinese military planners are acutely conscious that any conflict or war with the United States arising out of East China Sea, Taiwan Straits or South China Sea contingencies would run a grave risk of Chinese defeat.

Both for these and other reasons, China, at least for the decade ahead, wishes to maintain a stable strategic relationship with the United States.

However, Chinese diplomatic strategy over the same period is aimed at consolidating the perceived legitimacy of China’s stated ‘core interests’ in these various contested territorial domains.

It is within this realist, strategic framework that we should begin to analyse China’s call for ‘a new type of great power relationship’ with the United States – a call which has now become emblematic of Xi Jinping’s administration for the future of China-US relations.

At one level, this call, and America’s response to it to date, has been entirely laudable; mainly not to repeat the endless cycles of history that have caused emerging great powers to end up in conflict and/or war with established great powers.

It is certainly preferable to the alternative, particularly when the alternative has either been hot wars or cold wars.

At another level, however, both the Chinese and the Americans bring different perspectives to the table.

On the Chinese side, a careful examination of official texts reveals that one of the essential characteristics of China’s definition of ‘a new type of great power relationship’ is one which expects American acceptance of China’s ‘core interests’, including its claimed territory.

And it is on this precondition that other new forms of bilateral, regional and global cooperation may be possible.

From an American perspective, such pre-conditionality is rejected out of hand as incompatible with its long standing treaty-based security obligations.

Americans are also wary of the perceptual implications of their embrace of the Chinese ‘new type of great power relationship’ concept as being tantamount to a unilateral concession of moral, political and strategic
parity with Beijing.

By contrast, the Americans see the principal utility of a new type of relationship with the Chinese as a mechanism for building, step by step, new forms of bilateral, regional and global cooperation with Beijing, in order to reduce and ultimately overcome the strategic trust deficit between the two.

Furthermore, the Americans see this as an opportunity to cause the Chinese to become co-partners in the maintenance, evolution and improvement of the existing regional and global rules-based orders.

In this respect, American strategy is not dissimilar to Bob Zoellick’s ‘responsible global stakeholder’ strategy nearly a decade ago which argued that greater systemic engagement by the Chinese in upholding the integrity of the existing rules-based order would, in turn, cause the Chinese to conclude over time, that once they become the most powerful country in the world, either economically or militarily or both, it is in their own best national interests to maintain the order for the long term future.

In the meantime, the United States continues to prosecute the so-called hedge strategy in relation to China: to maintain an out-stretched hand of engagement towards China, encouraging the Chinese to maintain and improve the existing rules-based order both for their own and the collective interest for the future; while at the same time maintaining sufficient military preparedness over time to act if and when China steps decisively beyond the rules and norms of that order.

All this is by way of saying that both China and the United States bring considerably different expectations to the table as their bilateral summitry begins to unfold, starting in June this year, on how a ‘new type of great power relationship’ might be defined both conceptually and in practice.

China and the regional order

The truth is that overwhelming US military power combined with continued significant US economic power lies very much at the fulcrum of the stability of the post-war order.

And if China begins to replace the American fulcrum, the legitimate question from us all is what sort of alternative regional and global order would China seek to construct in its place.

The earliest contours of the emerging contest between American and Chinese power is, of course, the Asia Pacific region.

Our friends in Europe should be attentive to emerging trends in Asia as possible indicators of future global trends as well.

As Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said recently: ‘If China and the United States can avoid conflict and confrontation in the Asia Pacific region, there is no reason we cannot exist in peace in other parts of the world’.

As Robert Kaplan reminded us in his recent book, The Revenge of Geography, in an age of globalisation, geography still matters.

And it is in the Asia Pacific region that American and Chinese strategic interests rub up against each other most directly.

The overriding characteristic of the Asia Pacific region is that it is a region of increasingly open, globalising 21st Century economies located in a strategic landscape of positively 19th Century security policy disagreement, disputes and nascent conflicts.

The list is familiar to us all: the Korean Peninsula, the East China Sea, Taiwan, the South China Sea, together with the overall fabric of US military alliances and forward military deployments.

Each is replete with its own local complexity, while at the same time equally replete with the capacity to generate incidents, crisis management and conflict through miscalculation.

Regrettably, none of these can be categorised as belonging to the stability of the status quo.

Each is dynamic, some exceedingly so.

And while not in news in recent times, we should never remove our attention from Taiwan where the prospects of a return to Government by the pro-independent DPP at the next Presidential elections cannot be discounted; just as China’s ‘patience’ for the peaceful conclusion of the reunification project cannot be permanently assumed.

US strategic policy towards the region, both in terms of its capabilities and intentions, has been relatively clear-cut since the war.

China, most recently reflected in President Xi Jinping’s address to a ‘Diplomatic Work Conference’ in Beijing, has outlined once again its ‘good neighbour’ policy towards the countries of the region.

Nonetheless, the fault lines within the region are becoming increasingly stark: in other words where China’s desire for ‘a new type of great power relationship’ with the Unites States and its parallel desire for friendly and mutually beneficial relations with its neighbours in Asia, runs up against its hard-line position on unresolved territorial disputes.

This I believe is where regional institutions in the Asia Pacific have a critical role to play in building the habits of security policy transparency and cooperation over time, in parallel with the processes of economic integration already well underway.

The Asean Regional Forum, an Australian Diplomatic initiative from the 1990’s, has succeeded in playing a modest role on this front.

More recently, the Asean Defence Ministers Plus 8 has advanced this progress.

But the region has yet to fully harness the capacity of the East Asian Summit, the only annual summit meeting of all the region’s principals, including the United States, China, Japan, Russia and India, with an open agenda to prosecute political, economic, security and other policy challenges as a region.

I have long argued that this expanded EAS, which as of 2010 has included both the US and Russia, should be developed vigorously in the future in order to evolve over time.

In 2008 I called for a vision of an Asia Pacific community.

That call was entirely mindful of the lessons learned in Europe after a particularly bloody century.

Under the aegis of the EAS for example, a full range of confidence and security building measures could be developed over time to take the edge off, and to better-manage the outstanding security policy issues of the region.

Such an institution would also provide a forum over time to deliberate and evaluate the strategic policies of the region’s great powers, including China and the United States.

And while the US play book is reasonably open to the region, there is a growing appetite across the region for China to expound what its long term vision for the Asian hemisphere might be, and the nature of the rules-based order that might govern it.

China and the global order

Just as US power has underpinned the regional order in the Asia Pacific since the Second World War, so too has it underpinned the global order.

It was the United States that effectively convened the San Francisco conference in 1945 which resulted in the founding of the United Nations – including the UN Security Council, its membership and voting arrangements for the determination of the great questions of peace and security facing the world.

Similarly with the Bretton Woods Conference in 1944 and the establishment of the IMF, the World Bank and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade – later the WTO.

And much more recently, the American decision to convene the G20 in Washington to deal with the ongoing challenges of global financial management.

Just as US pre-eminence in the shaping of these post-war institutions rankled both the Soviet Union, and later Russia, so too does it now rankle China as it considers its own role in shaping these global institutions into the future.

At one level, China values global, multilateral institutions as reflecting the growing multipolarity of an increasingly globalised world.

Just as it values the flip side of this coin as well: namely the gradual amelioration of American unipolarity over time.

While China does not formally belong to a particular UN grouping (such as the G77) it does through its combined regional and multilateral diplomacy seek to engage strong constituency support across the developing countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America.

China also has sought to offset the traditional power structures of the US, the West and the allied rest by driving an expanded role for the BRICS – that is Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, within the overall fabric of the multilateral system.

Furthermore, there are growing signs of China taking a more active and at times leading role within particular UN institutions – whether on climate change, sustainable development, or more recently Chinese leadership of the International Finance Corporation (the IFC).

On the question of the future shape of a global rules-based order, China has yet to articulate a formal position.

However, from much of the published literature within China, it is reasonable to conclude that China is dissatisfied with many aspects of the current order while refraining from indicating which rules it would seek to change and for what purpose.

Nonetheless, in a telling remark in a recent article by State Councilor Yang Jiechi, Yang clearly states China’s desire to ‘move the international order in a more just and equitable direction’.

The challenge therefore, for the international community at large, is to pose this question very directly to our Chinese friends: if and when China becomes the world’s dominant power, how precisely would it seek to change the rules of the existing order – across the political, security, diplomatic, economic, environmental and social domains.

While these matters are actively discussed and debated within Chinese think tanks, for the rest of the world they are no longer theoretical concerns, but now very practical ones as well.


To paraphrase the classical Chinese curse: we indeed live in interesting times.

In Asia, at least, both regionally and globally, we find ourselves living through a period of unprecedented financial, economic and political flux.

We also find ourselves confronted by deeply entrenched global challenges which threaten us all; from climate change to cyber security to terrorism.

And we do so at a time when there is an emerging sense of crisis about the adequacy of our existing international institutions to deal effectively with these changes and challenges, particularly given the increasing incapacity of individual nation states to act unilaterally.

And all this occurring at a time when deep transformations are underway in the distribution of global economic and strategic power – from the United States, in the direction of China – and where unlike the power transition from the UK to the US a century ago, the US and China do not share the same extent of civilizational interests and values.

In other words, the challenges human kind faces are of an unprecedented complexity and are increasingly globalised in nature; our global institutions are faltering; and underlying strategic power realities are in their greatest state of flux in more than a century.

The central purpose of my address tonight, therefore, is to point to the fact that these are the central questions of our time:

• What future regional and global role does China now envision for itself and does the concept of ‘a new type of great power relationship’ with the United States represent a short-term tactical change or alternatively a long term strategic shift;
• What future order does Asia want for itself – Pax Americana, Pax Sinica or a broader concept of Pax Pacifica;
• What sort of global order do we all want for ourselves in the future – or what type of Pax Mundus might be possible; and
• Underpinning these core three questions above, what are our conclusions about the future trajectories of American power and its preparedness to deploy it in support of the current order.

Until the international community sharpens its analysis of these four core propositions, with cogent answers to each, and a cogent diplomatic strategy to give effect to these answers, there is a danger we are all likely to continue in the direction of overall strategic drift.

And the problem of strategic drift, in the absence of an understanding across us all, of our common, long term strategic direction, is that there is a real and present danger of unplanned implosions on the way through, in the complex world of diplomatic signalling and responses, grounded in fundamental understandings and misunderstandings of long term abilities and intentions.

If we in Australia have anything to offer on what I argue to be the central question of our age, it is this: in the 21st Century we find ourselves not only to be the West in the East; but also, at our best, the East in the West.

Seeking always to understand complex realities through different prisms.

My argument is that if we now harness our bilateral, regional and global diplomacies effectively around the core questions addressed in my remarks this evening, then there are legitimate grounds for optimism for navigating a stable and prosperous way through the great transformations that lie ahead – for us all.

Source: The Honorable Kevin M. Rudd