Related Speakers Search

The Honorable Kevin M. Rudd

Based in New York, NY, USA

  • The 26th Prime Minister and former Foreign Minister of Australia
  • A leading voice on global politics and the economy
  • President of the Asia Society Policy Institute (ASPI)
  • Co-Chair of The International Finance Forum (IFF)
  • Senior Fellow, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University
  • The 26th Prime Minister and former Foreign Minister of Australia
  • A leading voice on global politics and the economy
  • President of the Asia Society Policy Institute (ASPI)
  • Co-Chair of The International Finance Forum (IFF)
  • Senior Fellow, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University

The Honorable Kevin M. RUDD served as the 26th Prime Minister (2007-2010, 2013) and as Foreign Minister (2010-2012) of Australia. He led Australia’s response during the Global Financial Crisis, reviewed by the IMF as the most effective stimulus strategy of all major economies. Australia was the only major developed economy not to go into recession. Mr. Rudd was a co-founder of the G20, established to drive the global response to the crisis, and which through its actions in 2009 prevented the global economy spiraling into depression.

As Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Mr. Rudd was active in regional and global foreign policy leadership. He was a driving force in expanding the East Asia Summit to include both the US and Russia in 2010, having in 2008 launched an initiative for the long-term transformation of the EAS into a wider Asia Pacific Community. On climate change, Mr. Rudd ratified the Kyoto Protocol in 2007 and legislated in 2008 for a 20% mandatory renewable energy target for Australia. He represented Australia at the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change Summit which produced the Copenhagen Accord, for the first time committing states to not allow temperature increases beyond two degrees. He was  a member of the UN  High Level Panel on Global Sustainability and is a co-author of the of the report “Resilient People, Resilient Planet” for the 2012 Rio+20 Conference. Mr. Rudd drove Australia’s successful bid for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council for 2012-14. His government also saw the near doubling of Australia’s foreign aid budget to approximately $5 billion, making Australia then one of the top ten aid donors in the world. He also appointed Australia’s first ever Ambassador for Women and Girls to support the critical role of women in development and reduce physical and sexual violence against women.

Domestically, Mr. Rudd delivered a formal apology to indigenous Australians. In education, his government introduced Australia’s first nation-wide school curriculum, undertook a record capital investment program in Australian schools with the building of thousands of new state-of-art libraries, as well as introducing the first mandatory national assessment system for literacy and numeracy standards. In health, Mr. Rudd in 2010 negotiated the National Health and Hospitals Reform Agreement, the biggest reform of and investment in the health system since the introduction of medicare 30 years before. His government established a national network of leading-edge cancer-care centers across Australia, before introducing the world’s first ever plain-packaging regime for all tobacco products. To improve the rate of organ and tissue donation, he established the National Organ and Tissue Transplant Authority. In 2010, he introduced Australia’s first paid parental leave scheme and implemented the biggest increase in, and reform of, the age pension in a century. He also founded the National Broadband Network to deliver high-speed broadband for every household, business, school, hospital and GP in the country.

Mr. Rudd is President of the Asia Society Policy Institute in New York. ASPI is a “think-do tank” dedicated to second track diplomacy to assist governments and businesses on policy challenges within Asia, and between Asia, the US, and the West.  He has been Co-Chairman of The International Finance Forum (IFF).  He is also Chair of the Independent Commission on Multilateralism where in 2015-16 he leads a review of the UN system. Mr. Rudd is a Senior Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School where in 2014-15  he completed a major policy report on “Alternative Futures for US-China Relations.” He is a Distinguished Fellow at Chatham House in London, a Distinguished Statesman with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, and a Distinguished Fellow at the Paulson Institute in Chicago. Mr. Rudd is a member of  the Comprehensive Test Ban Organization’s Group of Eminent Persons. He is proficient in Mandarin Chinese, serves as a Visiting Professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing, and co-Chairs the China Global Affairs Council of the World Economic Forum.

Mr. Rudd in his private capacity has established the National Apology Foundation to continue the work of reconciliation and closing the gap with indigenous Australians, as well as the Asia Pacific Community foundation to promote regional security, economic, and environmental cooperation, and the development of effective regional institutional architecture for the future.


Kevin Rudd, Asia Society Policy Institute, discusses Donald Trump’s series of tweets slamming China about its currency and military policy.

1 April 2015 – Vancouver, Canada

Kevin Rudd: Are China and the US doomed to conflict?
Kevin Rudd: Are China and the US doomed to conflict?

G’day, my name’s Kevin. I’m from Australia. I’m here to help. (Laughter)

Tonight, I want to talk about a tale of two cities. One of those cities is called Washington, and the other is called Beijing. Because how these two capitals shape their future and the future of the United States and the future of China doesn’t just affect those two countries, it affects all of us in ways, perhaps, we’ve never thought of: the air we breathe, the water we drink, the fish we eat, the quality of our oceans, the languages we speak in the future, the jobs we have, the political systems we choose, and, of course, the great questions of war and peace.

5You see that bloke? He’s French. His name is Napoleon. A couple of hundred years ago, he made this extraordinary projection: “China is a sleeping lion, and when she awakes, the world will shake.” Napoleon got a few things wrong; he got this one absolutely right. Because China is today not just woken up, China has stood up and China is on the march, and the question for us all is where will China go and how do we engage this giant of the 21st century?

You start looking at the numbers, they start to confront you in a big way. It’s projected that China will become, by whichever measure — PPP, market exchange rates — the largest economy in the world over the course of the decade ahead. They’re already the largest trading nation, already the largest exporting nation, already the largest manufacturing nation, and they’re also the biggest emitters of carbon in the world. America comes second.

So if China does become the world’s largest economy, think about this: It’ll be the first time since this guy was on the throne of England — George III, not a good friend of Napoleon’s — that in the world we will have as the largest economy a non-English speaking country, a non-Western country, a non-liberal democratic country. And if you don’t think that’s going to affect the way in which the world happens in the future, then personally, I think you’ve been smoking something, and it doesn’t mean you’re from Colorado.

So in short, the question we have tonight is, how do we understand this mega-change, which I believe to be the biggest change for the first half of the 21st century? It’ll affect so many things. It will go to the absolute core. It’s happening quietly. It’s happening persistently. It’s happening in some senses under the radar, as we are all preoccupied with what’s going in Ukraine, what’s going on in the Middle East,what’s going on with ISIS, what’s going on with ISIL, what’s happening with the future of our economies.This is a slow and quiet revolution. And with a mega-change comes also a mega-challenge, and the mega-challenge is this: Can these two great countries, China and the United States — China, the Middle Kingdom, and the United States, Měiguó — which in Chinese, by the way, means “the beautiful country.”Think about that — that’s the name that China has given this countryfor more than a hundred years.Whether these two great civilizations, these two great countries, can in fact carve out a common futurefor themselves and for the world? In short, can we carve out a future which is peaceful and mutually prosperous, or are we looking at a great challenge of war or peace? And I have 15 minutes to work through war or peace, which is a little less time than they gave this guy to write a book called “War and Peace.”

People ask me, why is it that a kid growing up in rural Australia got interested in learning Chinese? Well, there are two reasons for that. Here’s the first of them. That’s Betsy the cow. Now, Betsy the cow was one of a herd of dairy cattle that I grew up with on a farm in rural Australia. See those hands there? These are not built for farming. So very early on, I discovered that in fact, working in a farm was not designed for me, and China was a very safe remove from any career in Australian farm life.

Here’s the second reason. That’s my mom. Anyone here ever listen to what their mom told them to do?Everyone ever do what their mom told them to do? I rarely did, but what my mom said to me was, one day, she handed me a newspaper, a headline which said, here we have a huge change. And that change is China entering the United Nations. 1971, I had just turned 14 years of age, and she handed me this headline. And she said, “Understand this, learn this, because it’s going to affect your future.”

So being a very good student of history, I decided that the best thing for me to do was, in fact, to go off and learn Chinese. The great thing about learning Chinese is that your Chinese teacher gives you a new name. And so they gave me this name: Kè, which means to overcome or to conquer, and Wén, and that’s the character for literature or the arts. Kè Wén, Conqueror of the Classics. Any of you guys called “Kevin”? It’s a major lift from being called Kevin to be called Conqueror of the Classics. (Laughter) I’ve been called Kevin all my life. Have you been called Kevin all your life? Would you prefer to be called Conqueror of the Classics?

And so I went off after that and joined the Australian Foreign Service, but here is where pride — before pride, there always comes a fall. So there I am in the embassy in Beijing, off to the Great Hall of the People with our ambassador, who had asked me to interpret for his first meeting in the Great Hall of the People. And so there was I. If you’ve been to a Chinese meeting, it’s a giant horseshoe. At the head of the horsehoe are the really serious pooh-bahs, and down the end of the horseshoe are the not-so-serious pooh-bahs, the junior woodchucks like me. And so the ambassador began with this inelegant phrase. He said, “China and Australia are currently enjoying a relationship of unprecedented closeness.” And I thought to myself, “That sounds clumsy. That sounds odd. I will improve it.” Note to file: Never do that. It needed to be a little more elegant, a little more classical, so I rendered it as follows. [In Chinese]

There was a big pause on the other side of the room. You could see the giant pooh-bahs at the head of the horseshoe, the blood visibly draining from their faces, and the junior woodchucks at the other end of the horseshoe engaged in peals of unrestrained laughter. Because when I rendered his sentence,“Australia and China are enjoying a relationship of unprecedented closeness,” in fact, what I said was that Australia and China were now experiencing fantastic orgasm. (Laughter)

That was the last time I was asked to interpret. But in that little story, there’s a wisdom, which is, as soon as you think you know something about this extraordinary civilization of 5,000 years of continuing history,there’s always something new to learn.

History is against us when it comes to the U.S. and China forging a common future together. This guy up here? He’s not Chinese and he’s not American. He’s Greek. His name’s Thucydides. He wrote the history of the Peloponnesian Wars. And he made this extraordinary observation about Athens and Sparta. “It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this inspired in Sparta that made war inevitable.” And hence, a whole literature about something called the Thucydides Trap.

This guy here? He’s not American and he’s not Greek. He’s Chinese. His name is Sun Tzu. He wrote “The Art of War,” and if you see his statement underneath, it’s along these lines: “Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.” Not looking good so far for China and the United States.

This guy is an American. His name’s Graham Allison. In fact, he’s a teacher at the Kennedy School over there in Boston. He’s working on a single project at the moment, which is, does the Thucydides Trap about the inevitably of war between rising powers and established great powers apply to the future of China-U.S. relations? It’s a core question. And what Graham has done is explore 15 cases in historysince the 1500s to establish what the precedents are. And in 11 out of 15 of them, let me tell you, they’ve ended in catastrophic war.

You may say, “But Kevin — or Conqueror of the Classics — that was the past. We live now in a world of interdependence and globalization. It could never happen again.” Guess what? The economic historians tell us that in fact, the time which we reached the greatest point of economic integration and globalizationwas in 1914, just before that happened, World War I, a sobering reflection from history.

So if we are engaged in this great question of how China thinks, feels, and positions itself towards the United States, and the reverse, how do we get to the baseline of how these two countries and civilizations can possibly work together?

Let me first go to, in fact, China’s views of the U.S. and the rest of the West. Number one: China feels as if it’s been humiliated at the hands of the West through a hundred years of history, beginning with the Opium Wars. When after that, the Western powers carved China up into little pieces, so that by the time it got to the ’20s and ’30s, signs like this one appeared on the streets of Shanghai. [“No dogs and Chinese allowed”] How would you feel if you were Chinese, in your own country, if you saw that sign appear?China also believes and feels as if, in the events of 1919, at the Peace Conference in Paris, when Germany’s colonies were given back to all sorts of countries around in the world, what about German colonies in China? They were, in fact, given to Japan. When Japan then invaded China in the 1930s the world looked away and was indifferent to what would happen to China. And then, on top of that, the Chinese to this day believe that the United States and the West do not accept the legitimacy of their political system because it’s so radically different from those of us who come from liberal democracies,and believe that the United States to this day is seeking to undermine their political system. China also believes that it is being contained by U.S. allies and by those with strategic partnerships with the U.S.right around its periphery. And beyond all that, the Chinese have this feeling in their heart of hearts and in their gut of guts that those of us in the collective West are just too damned arrogant. That is, we don’t recognize the problems in our own system, in our politics and our economics, and are very quick to point the finger elsewhere, and believe that, in fact, we in the collective West are guilty of a great bunch of hypocrisy.

Of course, in international relations, it’s not just the sound of one hand clapping. There’s another country too, and that’s called the U.S. So how does the U.S. respond to all of the above? The U.S. has a response to each of those. On the question of is the U.S. containing China, they say, “No, look at the history of the Soviet Union. That was containment.” Instead, what we have done in the U.S. and the Westis welcome China into the global economy,and on top of that, welcome them into the World Trade Organization. The U.S. and the West say China cheats on the question of intellectual property rights, and through cyberattacks on U.S. and global firms. Furthermore, the United States says that the Chinese political system is fundamentally wrong because it’s at such fundamental variance to the human rights, democracy, and rule of law that we enjoy in the U.S. and the collective West.And on top of all the above, what does the United States say? That they fear that China will, when it has sufficient power, establish a sphere of influence in Southeast Asia and wider East Asia, boot the United States out, and in time, when it’s powerful enough, unilaterally seek to change the rules of the global order.

So apart from all of that, it’s just fine and dandy, the U.S.-China relationship. No real problems there. The challenge, though, is given those deep-rooted feelings, those deep-rooted emotions and thought patterns, what the Chinese call “Sīwéi,” ways of thinking, how can we craft a basis for a common future between these two?

I argue simply this: We can do it on the basis on a framework of constructive realism for a common purpose. What do I mean by that? Be realistic about the things that we disagree on, and a management approach that doesn’t enable any one of those differences to break into war or conflict until we’ve acquired the diplomatic skills to solve them. Be constructive in areas of the bilateral, regional and global engagement between the two, which will make a difference for all of humankind. Build a regional institution capable of cooperation in Asia, an Asia-Pacific community. And worldwide, act further, like you’ve begun to do at the end of last year by striking out against climate change with hands joined together rather than fists apart.

Of course, all that happens if you’ve got a common mechanism and political will to achieve the above.These things are deliverable. But the question is, are they deliverable alone? This is what our head tells us we need to do, but what about our heart?

I have a little experience in the question back home of how you try to bring together two peoples who, frankly, haven’t had a whole lot in common in the past. And that’s when I apologized to Australia’s indigenous peoples. This was a day of reckoning in the Australian government, the Australian parliament, and for the Australian people. After 200 years of unbridled abuse towards the first Australians, it was high time that we white folks said we were sorry.

The important thing — (Applause)

The important thing that I remember is staring in the faces of all those from Aboriginal Australia as they came to listen to this apology. It was extraordinary to see, for example, old women telling me the stories of when they were five years old and literally ripped away from their parents, like this lady here. It was extraordinary for me to then be able to embrace and to kiss Aboriginal elders as they came into the parliament building, and one woman said to me, it’s the first time a white fella had ever kissed her in her life, and she was over 70. That’s a terrible story.

And then I remember this family saying to me, “You know, we drove all the way from the far North down to Canberra to come to this thing, drove our way through redneck country. On the way back, stopped at a cafe after the apology for a milkshake.” And they walked into this cafe quietly, tentatively, gingerly, a little anxious. I think you know what I’m talking about. But the day after the apology, what happened?Everyone in that cafe, every one of the white folks, stood up and applauded. Something had happened in the hearts of these people in Australia. The white folks, our Aboriginal brothers and sisters, and we haven’t solved all these problems together, but let me tell you, there was a new beginning because we had gone not just to the head, we’d gone also to the heart.

So where does that conclude in terms of the great question that we’ve been asked to address this evening, which is the future of U.S.-China relations?The head says there’s a way forward. The head says there is a policy framework, there’s a common narrative, there’s a mechanism through regular summitryto do these things and to make them better. But the heart must also find a way to reimagine the possibilities of the America-China relationship, and the possibilities of China’s future engagement in the world. Sometimes, folks, we just need to take a leap of faith not quite knowing where we might land.

In China, they now talk about the Chinese Dream. In America, we’re all familiar with the term “the American Dream.” I think it’s time, across the world,that we’re able to think also of something we might also call a dream for all humankind. Because if we do that, we might just change the way that we think about each other.

[In Chinese]

That’s my challenge to America. That’s my challenge to China. That’s my challenge to all of us, but I think where there’s a will and where there is imagination we can turn this into a future driven by peace and prosperity and not once again repeat the tragedies of war.

I thank you.


Chris Anderson: Thanks so much for that. Thanks so much for that. It feels like you yourself have a role to play in this bridging. You, in a way, are uniquely placed to speak to both sides.

Kevin Rudd: Well, what we Australians do best is organize the drinks, so you get them together in one room, and we suggest this and suggest that,then we go and get the drinks. But no, look, for all of us who are friends of these two great countries, America and China, you can do something. You can make a practical contribution, and for all you good folks here, next time you meet someone from China, sit down and have a conversation. See what you can find out about where they come from and what they think,and my challenge for all the Chinese folks who are going to watch this TED Talk at some time is do the same. Two of us seeking to change the world can actually make a huge difference. Those of us up the middle, we can make a small contribution.

CA: Kevin, all power to you, my friend. Thank you.

KR: Thank you. Thank you, folks.

Source: The Honorable Kevin M. Rudd

Now What about the Next 35 Years in US-China Relations?

Can China and the US Work Together to Construct New Global Public Goods?

24 March 2014

For all of us, anniversaries are important. They cause us to pause. To reflect. To take stock. To think for a moment about the future. And importantly to step outside the ebb and flow of the events of the day, to take the
broad view, the long view, and hopefully to harness the insights of history to help craft the future. That’s why the world is transfixed this year by the centenary of the outbreak of the World War I, the war to end all wars, a war which in fact determined the fate of much of the history of the last century. And that’s why, in a much smaller way, we have gathered here at Harvard to reflect on this 35th anniversary of the normalization of relations between this most ancient of civilizations and this most modern of democracies. And a relationship which will shape much of the history of the century that lies before us.

My argument to you tonight, as a longstanding friend of both these great peoples, is very simple. First, there is nothing determinist about history, because as nations and states we ultimately choose our own futures. Second, we are not destined to be forever captured by the primitive, atavistic nationalisms that scream from the collective memories of our past. Third, nor is the course of human progress inevitable, in some perfect linear projection pointing to some mythical end-point of history, as recent developments in the Greater Europe so painfully remind us. Fourth, consistent with this mindset, the leaders of these two great countries, China
and America, chose the sort of future they wanted for themselves by the decisions they took back in 1972 and 1979. And so they shaped the central thrust of their shared history for the last 35 years. This history could have been so radically different. And finally, the burden of leadership now lies with Presidents Xi Jinping and Obama. And that burden is to choose what shared, or unshared, history they want for their countries for the next 35 years. This burden is now much heavier because the underpinning geo-strategic circumstances of the relationship are so radically different than they were in 1979.

Their decisions will once again go to the great questions of whether there is peace or conflict; whether there is common or divided security; a shared prosperity or a return to mercantilism; whether together they resolve to save the planet itself from climate change.

The Journey so Far

China and America are the odd-couple of international relations. Their individual histories, in their own historiographies, are “exceptional.” Their shared history remarkable. Their differences, at times, untenable. History has rarely brought together two civilizations characterized by such an extraordinary cocktail of mutual fascination and mutual non-comprehension. Of all the nineteenth century western hegemons, America was seen by the Chinese, rightly, as the most benign. Americans wanted to trade, and they still do. And Americans wanted to save China’s soul, and still probably want to do that today as well. America helped defeat Japan, for which both Nationalist and Communist China were thankful, but never grateful.

In American foreign policy historiography, America then “lost China”, although in Chinese historiography, new China seemed to have found itself in the great events of
1949. For the Americans, China then became the “Red Menace” as part of the global spread of communism in partnership with the Soviet Union, and as reflected in theaters stretching from Korea to Indo-China.Meanwhile, for the Chinese, at the height of the Cultural Revolution, America in turn became the all-consuming ideological enemy – the source of unrepentant, capitalist imperialism.

Over the space of barely a hundred years, this represents a remarkable collage of conflicting impressions – hardly a promising canvas on which to paint a new strategic relationship. But this is precisely what the leaders of the two countries actually did in 1972 and 1979, following a quarter of a century of mutual hostility.

Mao and Nixon.

Kissinger and Zhou Enlai.

Deng and Carter.

And their many advisors, officials and ambassadors.

They saw a new strategic opportunity and grabbed it with both hands. On occasions such as this, we should never forget those who first dug the well. 吃水不忘掘井人.

While I do not have a decisively Carlylian view of history and the role of “great men” in shaping the ultimate course of events, I do believe that leadership matters fundamentally. Without these six men, it is hard to see how the history of the last 35 years could have unfolded in the way it has. Whatever the received narratives of the US-China relationship might now be for this period, the bottom line is that the last 35 years have been remarkably positive against the critical markers of common peace, stability and prosperity. The conceptualization of the relationship over this period has ranged across the whole spectrum of possibilities. This spectrum ranges from strategic co-existence, to cooperation, to contribution (i.e. the global stakeholder theory) to competition, to containment, to even low-level conflict, and then to plain old contradiction and complexity.

The latter (i.e. complexity and contradiction) effectively concede that it’s just all too hard to characterize at all. These are what I call the seven “C’s” of the competing taxonomies of US-China relations: co-existence, cooperation, contribution, competition, containment, conflict, and contradiction. None of these individually adequately describe the relationship over the period under review. Nor are they individually capable of providing a useful conceptual framework to prescribe the relationship for the future, given the changing strategic circumstances in which we now find ourselves. At different times, the US-China relationship has been a complex cocktail of all the above. But it has been a relationship anchored historically in a deep strategic rebalancing by the US and China against the then Soviet Union.

Now of course, this fundamental strategic logic has changed with the relative rise of China, the relative decline of Russia, the partial emergence of a new degree of strategic cooperation between them, and the beginnings of global questioning of the future of American power and the future strength and cohesion of the West.

US-China Relations Today

It is argued that in the period since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US-China relationship has as a result lacked an underpinning strategic rationale, or at least one that is shared by both sides. It is also argued that the anti-Soviet logic of the relationship deriving from the sixties and seventies, in fact began to unwind a couple of years before the final Soviet collapse.

Remember: it was Deng, in the tumultuous days of June 1989, drawing on the strategic leverage afforded him by the US relationship, who successfully resolved the 4300 km Sino-Soviet land border during Gorbachev’s visit to Beijing. Resolving the border was a critical element in normalizing the longer-term China- Russia relationship. Certainly, the following two decades saw a degree of strategic drift unfold between China and the United States, as China began to conclude that both regional and global strategic circumstances were beginning to change in its favor, enabling China also to chart an increasingly independent course.

The critical change drivers in this period after 1989 included the growing success of China’s economic transformation, so that by the end of the following decade, China had emerged as a major economic partner of many countries in the region. Second, the Asian Financial Crisis caused a number of regional states to begin to look to China as a source of support, in the face of the perceived indifference of the US and the collective west as demonstrated by the IMF’s response to this regional financial crisis. Third, the Global Financial Crisis a decade later accelerated this emerging regional trend of deepening economic engagement with China. It contributed to an emerging global dependency on China as a new driver of global economic growth at a time of great duress. It also paralleled a growing perception of the US economy over the last five years that the US was now in deep structural trouble, and could no longer be relied upon as the fundamental bastion of the global economy. Fourth, the cumulative impact of two major wars in the wider Middle East also impacted Chinese perceptions on the future of American military power and resolve. And finally, there also emerged a number of Chinese conclusions that the US political system may have become so dysfunctional that structural problems that could have been fixed in the past, say on tax, debt and deficit, could no longer be fixed because the system was now broken.

None of this is to suggest that China is without deep political, economic, social, environmental and diplomatic problems of its own. These are great in number. Deep in complexity. Not least the current environmental crisis.
So in looking at America’s challenges, we must not yield to the sound of only one hand clapping.Nonetheless it must be recognized that China has plans to deal with each of its challenges.Although how successfully it does so remains to be seen. For these reasons, China’s priorities over the next decade will remain overwhelmingly domestic. At the same time, China is also deeply reappraising its own future foreign policy in Asia, its military posture, and its future role in the global order.

So we are, I believe, in a time of changing dynamics in the China-US relationship, driven by the accumulation of these various internal and external challenges and opportunities, how their respective leaderships are able to respond, and whether they are also capable of crafting a sufficiently common strategic vision for their common future. The truth is, there is great uncertainty as to where it will all land.

Future Directions

So a core question for the next 35 years of the US and China is whether the two governments can construct a new organizing principle for their future strategic relationship. And to do so with a China which is more powerful, confident and assertive than before. But also a China with a growing list of its own deep vulnerabilities. And similarly for the United States, as it contemplates its own future role in sustaining both the regional and global rule-based orders, given the domestic political and economic constraints it now faces.An America, whose people are growing a little tired of the world. And an America now with growing budget constraints.

I said earlier there is nothing determinist about history. We shape our own histories, either by the decisions we make, or the inertia that overcomes us. And so it will be for the China-US relationship too. I believe it is possible to carve out a common future for both these great countries. And one which upholds the interests of other states, great and small, that depend on the international order for their survival. To do this will require four core elements: committed leadership; a fresh, conceptual approach which does not ignore existing strategic realities, but seeks to build new habits, structures and content of strategic cooperation; a working agenda that
translates lofty words into operational reality; and finally a mechanism for doing so. On leadership, I believe both leaders are seized of the significance of the challenge, and are prepared to engage.

As for a conceptual framework, President Xi uses the term “a new type of great power relationship” to avoid the inevitability of conflict between an existing great power and a rising power. This concept is very much a headline waiting to be populated. President Obama has said he is prepared to work on defining such a relationship. My own tentative view, for what it is worth, is that conceptually we should do some work around the idea of a relationship that is characterized by what it can construct together in the future.

In Chinese, the words jianshe(建设) , the verb “to construct,” and jianshexing(建设性) , the adjective “constructive” are both overwhelmingly positive, pro-active, action oriented terms. They are about building stuff. Not just objects, but also attitudes. It may be possible, for example, to construct together new global public goods, gonggong chanpin (公共产品), a term which the Chinese themselves have only relatively recently begun to publicly embrace. In a certain sense, this can also be applied to construct new regional public goods as well. This is qualitatively different to classical “stakeholder” theory.

Under stakeholder theory, China is invited to share the burden of implementing the rules already set by others. Constructing new public goods, which either don’t exist, or barely exist, is something
else. Maybe we should even dust off our international relations textbooks and ask what the international relation theory of “constructivism” (建构主义) might have to say that is useful in this sort of conceptual discussion. On content, a new constructive relationship could take the form of a new regime, or new rules of the road, on cyber security. No such regime currently exists. China and the US could construct one.

Second, it could take the form a radically new form of climate change agreement between the world’s two largest polluters. At present, there is none. Nor are China and the US likely to sign or ratify a binding global treaty. But bilaterally they could construct a new bilaterally agreed approach that big polluters might then join. This would be constructing a new global public good.

Third, it might also take the form of working together to construct a robust regional institution over time, by building a new Asia Pacific Community out of the existing East Asia Summit and to build new regional norms around concepts of common security. For example, this can increasingly be done in areas such as natural disaster management, then progressively other harder security questions, including preventing incidents at sea, or even in time, managing territorial disputes. At present, such institutions and norms don’t exist. They need to be constructed. I have written about the range of issue areas for constructive engagement in various papers and articles elsewhere.

The overall point here is for China, the US and others to build new public goods together where they currently don’t, or barely, exist. And in Asia, that is everywhere. This approach directs energies at constructing together a common, external public good, rather than focusing only on zero-sum game calculations of an exclusively bilateral nature, where one side or the other either wins or loses. This in turn is a way of gradually changing strategic mindsets, or siwei (思维), over time. Or as Deng might have said in a different context:摸着石头过河 Or in English, feeling your way cross the river, stone by stone.

Finally on mechanisms, fortunately, as of last year, we have a new, emerging practice of annual bilateral summitry. This is where the work must be commissioned and agreed. Only the two Presidents, in both their political systems, have the authority to make the big strategic calls that will be necessary for the future.


The future of this relationship between China and the United States affects us all. It can’t just be allowed to drift. By working on it, we might just be able to defy history, although the odds are tough. By working on it, many tough questions will come to the surface on our respective values, and what common ground exists among us. Tough questions on national interests, including what common ground can be found, rather than simply assuming a priori that these interests are fundamentally opposed. Tough questions concerning strategic mindsets – mindsets which have often been anchored in generations of deeply-wired political and strategic thought, perception and analysis, and which by instinctive reflex, cause each side to fear the worst of each other.

A tough question for China will be what sort of global order does China precisely want to see for the future, so the world can make a judgment about it well before China becomes a dominant power, capable of acting unilaterally. For my Chinese friends, the uncomfortable truth is that remaining obscure on this will compound strategic opposition to China, not reduce it.

A tough question for the American body-politic is how will America respond when it is no longer “number one” in the world in terms of the size of its economy, when that has been the underlying assumption of American global power for more than a century. Or will American politics degenerate into a debate about “who lost America’s preeminent global position” rather than focusing on how to shape a future that maximizes
the values and interests of us all through the future global order. At the same time, looking beyond particular nationalisms, how do we constructivelyunleash the great, liberating energies of globalization in the future shape of the US-China relationship and its impact on the global order.

These forces include the rising generation whose socialization is increasingly digital and therefore global. And for whom many of the classical security concerns that have preoccupied their parents and grandparents begin to melt away. Where the passage of time produces an increasingly global culture, rather than one exclusively defined by narrow nationalisms.

In precisely 35 years from now, it will be 100 years since the proclamation of the People’s Republic. What sort of China will there be then, we do not know. Nor for that matter what type of America, other than it will be primarily Hispanic and Asian, and in an age when hopefully none of that matters anymore. These things we cannot know. But given what we do know now, it is now critical that we seize the day to maximize the prospects for our common peace, economic prosperity and planetary sustainability for the future, rather than allow the dynamics of strategic drift to unfold, driven by the darker, subterranean forces of nationalism.
President Xi speaks of “China’s Dream.” And here we are at this great university that lies at the heart of the American dream.

Surely it is within our collective wit and wisdom to begin to imagine precisely how we can dream together – and construct together the global order of the future.A global order grounded in the principles of open economies, free and stable societies, and a common security for us all.

Source: The Honorable Kevin M. Rudd


15 April 2015 – New York, NY


I pride myself in being a friend of America.

I equally pride myself in being a friend of China.

And thus it has been throughout my adult life.

From the time I first picked up a calligraphic brush more than a third of a century ago to draw, with no small sense of wonder, and an even greater sense of trepidation, my first Chinese character.

Just as, at the same university, and in the very same year, I was first intoxicated with the sheer poetry, cadence and power of Lincoln’s address on the field at Gettysburg – reflecting as we do this day, on the sesqui-centenary of his untimely death.

These two great civilizations, China and America, have achieved much.

One over the span of 4000 years.

The other over some 400 years.

They have both given much to humanity.

They have more still to give.

And far better they make this contribution together.

For these reasons, and despite the urgings of some, I find no inherent contradiction between these two propositions: of being a friend of China, and of being a friend of America.

Complexity yes.

But contradiction no.

In fact in this turbulent 21st century, it is far better we have more who are friends of both, rather than less.

For in the history of international relations, I have rarely encountered two countries and civilizations as utterly fascinated in one another, yet as utterly non-comprehending of one another, as China and the United States.

As I read the history of CV Starr, I see something of a kindred spirit from a century now long past.

Yet in Starr’s case, he embraced these two countries, China and America, well before it was ever remotely fashionable, or even acceptable, to do so.

Starr’s China was the China of nearly a century ago, when the early Chinese Republic had not long replaced a Chinese empire older than Rome’s.

When Starr established AIU, Asiatic Insurance Underwriters, in 1919, the Paris Peace Conference had just decided to give Germany’s former colonies in China, not to the fledgling Chinese republic, but to the Empire of Japan.

This was also the year that saw the birth of the May the Fourth Movement that was to transform classical China into modern China.

And a movement which, in part, within the next few years was to give rise to the establishment of the Chinese Communist Party, which continues to govern China to this day.

Starr therefore arrived in China to start a business in one the most significant periods in modern Chinese history.

He also reminds us that, despite the long shadows of history and geopolitics, individual people like Cornelius Vander Starr can, and did, make a mark on the life of peoples and nations.

He spoke of a “Chinese century” well before any of us ever thought of the term, let alone conceive of the reality.

He hired Chinese managers when this practice was almost unheard of.

He treated his Asian and Chinese friends and colleagues with deep respect and even deference, at a time when the theory of racial superiority was still the prevailing western orthodoxy.

He moved comfortably across cultures and classes.

He saw no nationalities, nor races – only ordinary men and women.

He also spoke truth to power, living through Japan’s brutal occupation of China.

At a time when most Westerners were silent, Starr opposed Japanese propaganda through his own Chinese-language newspaper.

This cost him dearly.

His publication’s office was bombed in 1939, and its editor assassinated in a café.

CV Starr also genuinely cared for people.

During the Chinese civil war, Starr airlifted his staff and their families 1,000 miles to Hong Kong, and out of the jaws of death.

And all without missing a day of work, as a good captain of industry would.

Every now and then, there are giants who live among us.

Individuals confident enough in the ethical and practical imperatives of their mission to paint the future with bold brushstrokes.

Not minor dabbling around the edges.

A capacity for courage, creativity, enterprise and compassion – to build new institutions from nothing but the power of their imagination, and the singularity of their purpose.

We are in need of such women and men once again today.

In an age when the imperative of seeing underlying commonalities, rather than focusing exclusively on insuperable polarities, is greater than ever before.

For the simple reason that if we have the eyes to see, and the ears to hear, the truth is the challenges we now confront as a society of nations together, are far greater than the challenges our individual nations confront in their dealings with each other.

Global, violent terrorism is a threat to all nations, including China and America together.

Global pandemic diseases are a threat to all nations, including China and America together.

Global greenhouse gas emissions capable of producing irreversible climate change are a threat to all nations, including China and America together.

That is why we need a chorus of voices that remind us of the age-old truth that the things that divide us, are much smaller in the global scheme of things, than the things that should now unite us.

And nowhere is this truer than in the future of US-China relations.

This last 12 months, I have been working away at the Belfer Center at the Harvard Kennedy School, on how we could possibly craft a common future for America and China.

And my remarks tonight are drawn in substantial part from the summary report of my endeavors which I am also releasing this evening here in New York.

My purpose is whether, despite the formidable differences between the two, we can construct a common strategic narrative for these two great countries

One that does not end, once again, in the sorry saga of conflict and war, as we have seen so often in the past, when rising great powers have encountered established great powers throughout history.

But instead a future where there is sufficient commonality of values, interests and purpose to preserve the peace, enhance prosperity, while also protecting the planet.

This is not easy.

It is hard.

But I do not believe the histories of nations, and their dealings with each other, are somehow written in the stars.

The future of US-China relations is not the subject of some determinist view of history.

It has been shaped, and will be shaped, for good or for ill, by the policy decisions of leaders, and the perceptions on which these policy decisions are based.

When China’s GDP, after decades of rapid economic growth, and despite recent slowing, eventually surpasses that of the United States over the next decade, it will be the first time since George III, that a non-Western, non-English-speaking, non-liberal democratic state will become the largest economy in the world.

This will reflect a profound shift in the center of global geo-economic gravity.

And with this shift in economic power there also comes inevitably a shift in political power.

Notwithstanding this gradual shift in the global distribution of economic power, over the course of the same decade the United States will nonetheless remain the dominant regional and global military power, and by a massive margin.

While China’s increasing defense spending will continue to close the gap, there is no serious prospect of it reaching military parity with the U.S. before mid-century, if at all.

China, like the rest of the world, will remain justifiably mindful of America’s overwhelming military power.

This is a core assumption in Chinese strategic thinking.

We are, therefore, seeing the emergence of an asymmetric world in which the fulcrums of economic and military power are no longer co-located, but, in fact, are beginning to diverge significantly.

Political power, through the agency of foreign policy, sits uncomfortably somewhere in between.

As a result, in the absence of sophisticated diplomacy, over the coming decade we are likely to see more differences emerge between Washington and Beijing, rather than fewer.

The consequences of this emerging strategic and economic asymmetry in the U.S.-China relationship will first manifest themselves in the Asia-Pacific region.

As Robert Kaplan has reminded us recently, geography does indeed matter.

It is in this region that the U.S. and China experience direct contact through their territorial proximity (Guam) and the deployment of their various national military, naval and air assets.

This is compounded by: the presence of both Chinese and U.S. allies (North Korea in China’s case; Japan, the ROK, the Philippines, Thailand and Australia in the case of the U.S.); an even broader set of non-alliance military partnerships, principally with the U.S.; and a vast array of contested territorial claims between regional states, including three American allies, and China.

Yet, at the same time, it is a region in which China is now a significantly more important trading partner than the U.S. for every country in Asia, including every single American military ally and strategic partner.

China is also becoming an increasingly important investment partner.

To avoid the longer-term bifurcation of the region into different camps, the challenge for Asia is to craft a common institutional future for an increasingly divergent region – a region in which pan-regional institutional structures can at present best be described as “thin.”

This shifting balance of economic power is also beginning to be seen globally, where China’s economic presence in Africa, Latin America and Europe also challenges the long-standing economic primacy of the United States.

China’s growing global economic and political role will also begin to reshape international norms, rules and institutions.

It will reverberate across geopolitics, global trade, investment, capital flows, reserve currency status, climate change, other environmental challenges and global people movements.

And it will also influence the great questions of war and peace in the decades ahead.

The central question for all of us is whether these changes in the regional and global distribution of power can occur peacefully, in a manner which preserves the stability and prosperity of Asia, while preserving the underlying values and institutional framework of the post-war order.

In answering these questions, we must ask ourselves the following:

  • Given that economic strength is the foundation of national power, is China’s economic rise sustainable over the decade ahead, or is it likely to falter?
  • If it is sustainable, will China deploy its newfound power differently under the leadership of Xi Jinping than under his predecessors?
  • Under Xi Jinping, what are China’s underlying strategic perceptions of future U.S. political, economic and military power, including Beijing’s conclusions about Washington’s “grand strategy” toward China?
  • What is the emerging American perception of Chinese strategy under Xi Jinping, including Washington’s responses to Beijing’s conclusions about U.S. strategy?
  • What is the level of risk of China, the United States and/or its allies ending up in armed conflict, either by accident or design, in the decade ahead?
  • How is China’s expanding political, foreign policy and economic influence likely to shape the future of the regional and global order, and will this be acceptable or inimical to U.S. interests?
  • Finally, is it possible to develop a common strategic narrative for both China and the United States that helps minimize the risk of conflict, and maximize the possibility of constructing a common order? If so, what are the outlines of this order?

These questions are obviously riddled with complexity.

But the task of those of us sufficiently presumptuous to advise policy makers is to try to reduce the complex to the simple, or at least render the impossible as least digestible.

Therefore, each of the answers below inevitably involves “on balance” judgments that will be the subject of criticism from either area specialists on the one hand, or analysts who concentrate on individual policy domains, from strategic studies and macroeconomics, to the sociology of religion, on the other.

My argument, however, is that policy makers today suffer not from a deficit of analysis, but rather a deficit of synthesis when trying to anticipate or respond to the mega-changes and challenges of our day.

The rise of China is a classic case in point.

Sustainability of Chinese Economic Model

On the sustainability of Chinese economic growth as the continuing basis of Chinese national power, on balance we should assume a Chinese growth rate in the medium to medium-high range (i.e. in excess of 6 percent) as probable for the period under review.

This takes into account both official and unofficial statistics on the recent slowing of the rate.

It also takes into account lower levels of global demand for Chinese exports, high levels of domestic debt, the beginning of a demographically driven shrinking in the labor force, continued high levels of domestic savings, at best modest levels of household consumption, an expanding private sector still constrained by state-owned monoliths, and a growing environmental crisis.

But it also takes into account the vast battery of Chinese policy responses to each of these and does not assume that these are by definition destined to fail.

Furthermore, if China’s growth rate begins to falter, China has sufficient fiscal and monetary policy capacity to intervene to ensure the growth rate remains above 6 percent, which is broadly the number policy makers deem to be necessary to maintain social stability.

For these reasons, and others concerning the structure of Chinese politics, I explicitly reject the “China collapse” thesis recently advanced by David Shambaugh.

It would also be imprudent in the extreme for America’s China policy to be based on an implicit (and sometimes explicit) policy assumption that China will either economically stagnate or politically implode because of underlying contradictions in its overall political economy.

This would amount to a triumph of hope over cold, hard analysis.

How different is Xi Jinping

If the Chinese Economic Model is sustainable, and Chinese aggregate national power likely to increase, then how will China act under the new leadership of Xi Jinping?

Three concepts define how Xi Jinping’s leadership differs from that of his predecessors:

  • his personal authority;
  • his deep sense of national mission;
  • and an even deeper sense of urgency.

Xi’s audacious leadership style sets him apart from the modern Chinese norm.

Both in personality and policy, he represents one part continuity and two parts change.

Xi is the most powerful Chinese leader since Deng (Deng Xiaoping 邓小平), and possibly since Mao (Mao Zedong 毛泽东).

Whereas his predecessors believed in, and by and large practiced, the principle of collective leadership, Xi Jinping is infinitely more primus than he isprimus inter pares.

As a Party blue blood, he also exudes a self-confidence that comes from someone utterly comfortable with the exercise of political power.

His core, animating vision centers on his concept of the “China Dream” (zhongguomeng 中国梦) which in turn has two objectives:

  • to achieve a “moderately well-off China” (xiaokang shehui 小康社会) by 2021 when the Party celebrates its centenary;
  • and “a rich and powerful” (fuqiang 富强) China by 2049 on the centenary of the People’s Republic.

Realizing the China Dream, according to Xi, requires a second phase of transformative economic reform.

He sees no contradiction in prosecuting deeper market reforms to achieve his national objectives, while implementing new restrictions on individual political freedom.

In fact, he sees this as the essence of “the China Model” (zhongguo moshi 中国模式) in contrast to the liberal democratic capitalism of the West which he describes as totally unsuited to China.

Xi Jinping’s sense of personal and national urgency is animated by a formidable, Confucian work ethic, which he also expects of his Party colleagues and policy advisors.

He is results-driven.

He is frustrated by the interminable processes of the Chinese bureaucracy, and its predisposition for formulaic responses to real policy challenges.

He is very much a man in a hurry.

For these several reasons, Xi, unlike his predecessor, has the personal authority and policy flexibility to be a potentially dynamic interlocutor with the United States, albeit always within the framework of his nationalist vision for China’s future, and his definitive conclusions concerning the continuing role of China’s one-party state.

Chinese Perceptions of the United States

If China has a formidable new leader, and one which the U.S. can strategically engage, it is critical to understand the underlining strategic perceptions that Chinese policy elites have towards the United States.

The current relationship between the United States and China has been characterized privately by one Chinese interlocutor as one condemned to a future of “Mutually Assured Misperception.”

There is considerable truth to this, as each side engages in various forms of mirror imaging of the other.

One senior Chinese interlocutor said during the preparation of my report:

The problem is the United States believes that China will simply adopt the same hegemonic thinking that the United States has done historically, as seen under the Monroe Doctrine and the multiple invasions of neighboring states in the Western Hemisphere that followed. Since the Second World War, there has barely been a day when the United States has not been engaged in a foreign war. As a result, the United States believes that China will behave in the same way. And this conclusion forms the basis of a series of recent policies towards China.

Americans offer their own variations on the same theme concerning Chinese mirror imaging.

Nonetheless, Chinese leaders have begun to form a worrying consensus on what they believe to be the core elements of U.S. strategy towards China, despite Washington’s protestations to the contrary.

These are reflected in the following five-point consensus circulated among the Chinese leadership during 2014, summarizing internal conclusions about U.S. strategic intentions:

  • To isolate China;
  • To contain China;
  • To diminish China;
  • To internally divide China; and
  • To sabotage China’s leadership.

While these conclusions sound strange to a Western audience, they nonetheless derive from a Chinese conclusion that the United States has not, and never will, accept the fundamental political legitimacy of the Chinese administration because it is not a liberal democracy.

They are also based on a deeply held, deeply “realist” Chinese conclusion that the U.S. will never willingly concede its status as the pre-eminent regional and global power, and will do everything within its power to retain that position.

In Beijing, this assumption permeates perceptions of nearly all aspects of U.S. policy:

  • from campaigns on human rights,
  • political activism in Hong Kong,
  • arms sales to Taiwan,
  • and America’s failure to condemn terrorist attacks by Xinjiang separatists,
  • to support for Falungong and the Dalai Lama.

What about American Strategic Perceptions of China

American strategic perceptions and responses to Xi Jinping’s China are in a period of transition, just as China itself is now in transition.

During times of transition, therefore, there is often a risk of radically underestimating or over-dramatizing the significance of the profound changes underway.

Rising China is no longer “business as usual” for America. But neither, for the decade ahead, is this new China becoming a major direct military threat to U.S. interests.

Instead, the U.S. sees China as actively competing for political, diplomatic and security policy space in Asia at America’s expense; to the extent that China is increasingly seen as pursuing a long-term policy aimed at pushing the United States out of Asia altogether with a view to establishing its own sphere of strategic influence across the region over time.

What are the Possibilities of Arm-conflict between the U.S. and China

So given the generally negative strategic perceptions that China has of the U.S., and the U.S. has of China, what are the prospects for any forms of armed conflicts between the two in the decade ahead?

Xi Jinping is a nationalist.

And China, both the U.S. and China’s neighbors have concluded, is displaying newfound assertiveness in pursuing its hard security interests in the region.

But there is, nonetheless, a very low risk of any form of direct conflict involving the armed forces of China and the U.S. over the next decade.

It is not in the national interests of either country for any such conflict to occur; and it would be disastrous for both, not to mention for the rest of the world.

Despite the deep difficulties in the relationship, no Cold War standoff between them yet exists, only a strategic chill.

In fact, there is a high level of economic inter-dependency in the relationship, which some international relations scholars think puts a fundamental brake on the possibility of any open hostilities.

Although it should be noted the U.S. is no longer as important to the Chinese economy as it once was.

However, armed conflict could feasibly arise through one of two scenarios:

  • Either an accidental collision between U.S. and Chinese aircraft or naval vessels followed by a badly managed crisis; or
  • Through a collision (accidental or deliberate) between Chinese military assets and those of a regional U.S. ally, most obviously Japan or the Philippines.

Nonetheless, Xi Jinping has no interest in triggering armed conflict with the U.S., a nightmare scenario that would fundamentally undermine China’s economic rise.

Furthermore, there are few, if any, credible military scenarios in the immediate period ahead in which China could militarily prevail in a direct conflict with the U.S.

This explains Xi’s determination to oversee the professionalization and modernization of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) into a credible, war-fighting and war-winning machine.

Xi Jinping is an intelligent consumer of strategic literature and would have concluded that risking any premature military engagement with the U.S. would be foolish.

Traditional Chinese strategic thinking is unequivocal in its advice not to engage an enemy unless you are in a position of overwhelming strength.

Under Xi, the ultimate purpose of China’s military expansion and modernization is not to inflict defeat on the U.S., but to deter the U.S. Navy from intervening in China’s immediate periphery by creating sufficient doubt in the minds of American strategists as to their ability to prevail.

For these reasons, the likelihood of U.S.-China conflict in the medium to long term remains remote.

This is why Xi Jinping is more attracted to the idea of expanding China’s regional and global footprint by economic and political means.

This is where he will likely direct China’s diplomatic activism over the decade ahead.

Chinese political, economic and foreign policy influence in Asia will continue to grow significantly, while China will also become a more active participant in the reform of the global rules-based order.

As noted above, a core geopolitical fact emerging is that we are now seeing the rise of what Evan Feigenbaum has described as “two Asias”:

  • an “economic Asia” that is increasingly dominated by China;
  • and a “security Asia” that remains dominated by the United States.

China is now a bigger trading partner with every country in Asia than the United States.

The U.S. is either an ally or strategic partner of the bulk of maritime Asia.

By contrast, China’s only strategic “ally” is North Korea, which has become a greater strategic liability than an asset.

If strategic tensions drove the U.S. and China into adversarial postures, regional states would face increasingly irresistible pressure to make a zero sum strategic choice between the two.

China continues to build on its economic strength in the wider region through its recent institutional innovation.

While the BRICS Bank, or the New Development Bank (NDB), has a global mandate, the AIIB has an exclusively regional focus.

As for the Silk Road Fund, the bulk of its investment will focus on Southeast, South and Central Asia.

Concurrently, many regional states are strengthening their security ties with the U.S., compelled by their long-term strategic anxieties over an increasingly powerful China.

Strategic polarization across Asia is therefore likely to intensify in the future.

There are different approaches to regional architecture and mechanisms to deal with Asian security challenges.

The U.S. and the West are, at best, peripherally aware of China’s preferred institutional arrangements for the region as reflected in Xi Jinping’s “Asian Security Concept” (Yatai anquanguan 亚太安全观).

Delivered at the May 2014 Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA), Xi outlined an integrated concept of “common security,” “comprehensive security,” and “cooperative security” for the entire region. Provocatively, however, Xi made plain that his “Asian Security Concept” did not include the United States:

When it comes to Asian Affairs, they should fundamentally be handled by the people of Asia; when it comes to the problems of Asia, these should be fundamentally managed by the people of Asia; when it comes to the security of the Asia, it should be upheld by the people of Asia. The people of Asia are capable and wise enough to strengthen cooperation among themselves, in order to achieve the peace and stability of Asia.


The time is ripe to consider alternative institutional approaches that integrate both China and the U.S. into a common regional arrangement, and with a mandate to tackle both security and economic challenges.

If competing structures are established, these will exacerbate regional division.

Furthermore, any explicit attempt to exclude the U.S. from the regional security architecture is more likely to strengthen existing U.S. military alliances, rather than weaken them.

Rather than playing an institutional tug-of-war, it would be far more constructive for the U.S. and China to join hands in building pan-regional institutional arrangements.

This will not solve all regional security challenges.

But it will help to manage, and reduce, them over time.

Confidence-building measures could cascade into a more transparent security culture and, in time, a more secure Asia.

But this can only happen if both powers decide to invest common capital into a common regional institution.

Otherwise, we really do find ourselves in the world of the “zero sum game.”

Constructive Realism for a Common Purpose: Toward a common strategic narrative for U.S.-China relations.

Before détente, during the latter period of the Cold War, a joint narrative between the U.S. and the Soviet Union was not possible.

Both sides were not only ideological enemies. They were declared military enemies.

They fought proxy wars.

And they were in a permanent state of readiness to go to war directly, and in extremis, to destroy one another in a nuclear exchange.

Over time, however, the U.S. and the Soviet Union did develop basic protocols to avoid crises and unintended confrontation.

By contrast, despite the difficulties, the U.S.-China relationship remains in decidedly positive territory. Since 1972, U.S.-China relations have remained more functional than those between the U.S. and the Soviet Union ever were, and have never escalated to a comparable level of hostility.

As noted above, both China and the United States have private and semi-public strategic narratives about each other.

But as yet they do not have a shared strategic narrative between each other.

Such a common strategic narrative for U.S.-China relations may be difficult, but it is certainly not impossible.

And given the stakes involved for the future, it is increasingly necessary.

A common strategic framework for U.S.-China relations would offer many advantages.

  • First, in Washington, it would help provide strategic direction to Government agencies competing for policy attention and space, as well as those multiple agencies engaged in aspects of the China relationship but not on a daily basis, thereby helping to provide policy coherence in engaging on an inter-agency basis, as well as with Chinese interlocutors;
  • Second, in Beijing it would go beyond that because of the more hierarchical nature of the political and bureaucratic decision-making process, providing direction to the system at large; and
  • Third, for both powers, a coherent strategic framework would also inject additional positive ingredients: a common determination to manage significant differences effectively in order to avoid unnecessary confrontation; a common commitment to collaborate in difficult policy areas with a view to resolving them; and a common sense of purpose to build political capital and strategic trust over time.

For these reasons, the ideational content of a common strategic framework for the relationship should be:

  • “realist” about those areas of the relationship which are not possible to resolve within the foreseeable future;
  • “constructive” about those areas that could be resolved with high-level political effort at the bilateral, regional and global levels;
  • and guided by a “common purpose” to build strategic trust, step by step, over time, not based on declaratory statements, but instead on common action in resolving common problems.

 Defining realism in the relationship

What are the realistic factors in the China-U.S. relationship?

A healthy exercise to be conducted between Beijing and Washington would be to clarify the contents of such a list, in order to first agree on exactlywhat they disagree on. This list is therefore purely indicative:

  • Taiwan, including future American arms sales;
  • Conflicting claims between China and Japan in the East China Sea;
  • Conflicting claims between China and other claimant states in the South China Sea;
  • The retention of U.S. alliances in Asia;
  • China’s military modernization and mutual surveillance of each other’s capabilities;
  • Acceptance of the legitimacy of the Chinese political system as a matter for the Chinese people to resolve; and
  • The management of bilateral, Non-Governmental Organization-based (NGO) and UN multilateral disagreements on human rights and basic freedoms, including Internet regulation.

However, these deep “realist” elements of the relationship should be matched by “constructive” engagement between the U.S. and China in difficult areas of their bilateral, regional and global relationship where true progress is possible.

Otherwise, there is a danger that unalloyed strategic “realism” will suffocate the relationship altogether.

Or worse.

Given the generally bleak assumptions about each other’s ultimate strategic intentions, there is the perennial risk of “hyper-realism” becoming a form of self-fulfilling prophecy, resulting in crisis, conflict or even war.

I argue that the constructive element of the relationship should be advanced at bilateral, regional, and global levels.

These are outlined in considerable details in the report I am releasing on U.S.-China relations under Xi Jinping.

Bilaterally, I propose five concrete measures, including the rapid conclusion of the US-China bilateral investment treaty.

Regionally, I also propose five measures, including a medium-term proposal to transform the EAS to APC.

Globally, I propose an even larger number of cooperative endeavors between China and the U.S., most particular, the intensification of their collaboration on climate change, also to include India, in the lead up to the Paris UNCCC in December.

Toward a common strategic purpose between China and the U.S.

Both the realist and constructive dimensions of this proposed framework for U.S.-China relations are designed to be dynamic, not static.

As political space begins to open up in the relationship over time, as a result of progress in any of the collaborative diplomatic and economic initiatives listed above, accrued political capital should be deployed to deal with new challenges arising from developments in the international community.

It should also be deployed to deal with some of the older, more “realist” problems endemic to the bilateral relationship that had hitherto been seen as too difficult to address. The key ingredient, however, is the gradual development of a stock of strategic trust based on what the U.S. and China are able to achieve cooperatively.

However, another common ambition might be the preservation of a functioning global order itself that is capable of effective global decision-making and dispute resolution.

China has a deep philosophical reservation, born of millennia of historical experience, of “chaos under heaven” (tianxia daluan 天下大乱).

Whereas historically this has applied to China’s domestic arrangements to preserve the unity and good government of the empire, China’s now unprecedented global engagement creates a new imperative for order in the international domain as well.

At one level, there is a debate in the international community today about the type of global order we would like for the future: minimalist, maximalist global governance, realist, liberal internationalist, so-called “variable geometry,” etc.

This seems to miss the point in the present international environment.

We may no longer have the luxury of a sumptuous global smorgasbord of options to choose from.

In truth, we now find ourselves confronted by multiple external challenges to an international order of any description.

The enemies of “order” are there for all those with eyes to see:

  • Violent, global jihadism seeking to destroy the very notion of secular states or any society of states;
  • New weapons of mass destruction in the form of cyber terrorism, cyber crime and state-based cyber attack against critical infrastructure;
  • A new generation of global pandemics;
  • Existential threats to the planet through irreversible climate change; and
  • Associated crises in food, water and basic energy supply.

These are attacks against “order” itself.

They should, as a matter of both reason and emotion, cause states to conclude that whatever differences they have between them, these are now smaller than the common threats we now face together as a society of states and our common need to defend the order itself.

Source: The Honorable Kevin M. Rudd


See All News 
  • Global Governance and Global Order
  • Global economics
  • US-China Relations
  • Asia’s Geopolitics
  • The Rise of China
  • Global Sustainability, Energy and Climate Change
  • Establishment of Asian Pacific Community