One of Australia’s foremost China experts says then prime minister Kevin Rudd may have fallen victim to “bite your friend” syndrome during his dealings with the Asian power, as Beijing expected too much in return.
In a paper to be released today by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Ross Terrill, once described by the Chinese as a “vanguard officer” for Gough Whitlam‘s 1971 visit, says Mr Rudd, a “liberal internationalist”, was the first leader of an important power who knew China well, spoke Chinese and had lived in Beijing.
“This exposed him to the danger of what I call ‘bite your friend’ syndrome,” Dr Terrill says. “Someone with a foot in the Chinese cultural camp can be easy prey, expected to deliver for the camp, risking emotional kickback if he doesn’t.”
Dr Terrill says when Mr Rudd took office in 2007, he was hailed at home as a guaranteed wizard at handling China.
“But when he spoke Chinese with president Hu Jintao, many Australians were irritated. The initial Chinese embrace of Rudd soon led — surprising many — to Chinese demands on Australia,” Dr Terrill says. “The two nations’ cultural and economic relations hit their worst patch since Tiananmen in 1989.”
Beijing assailed Canberra for allowing exiled Chinese Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer into Australia, sabotaged the Melbourne Film Festival for showing a film about her, and tried to stop her speaking before the National Press Club.
“Photos of dead kangaroos mysteriously appeared on the film festival’s website,” Dr Terrill says.
Beijing also reacted angrily when Chinalco was unable to buy a large chunk of Rio Tinto. Soon, former Rio Tinto executive Stern Hu was in a Chinese prison, where he remains.
Mr Rudd’s hawkish defence white paper irritated China and the former PM told then US secretary of state Hillary Clinton he was a “brutal realist” about China. And while he argued for engagement to integrate China with the international community, he also said he was prepared to deploy force if things went wrong.
Dr Terrill says Mr Rudd’s acts on China policy were quite balanced, but Beijing perhaps expected better from a friend.
“Moments of instability in Rudd’s China policy may have resulted from a liberal internationalism being squeezed between a Chinese embrace and Australian scepticism about a tall poppy whispering in Chinese to Beijing’s leaders.”
Dr Terrill’s paper challenges the twin views that China’s rising economic and military power will dominate the region, and that the US is in decline. He says both Beijing and Washington see a power standoff looming between them in the Asia-Pacific. “The major question is whether it can be handled peacefully.”
Dr Terrill predicts China’s growth will slow, that American resilience is being widely underestimated, and that resistance to Beijing presiding over the Asia-Pacific would be robust.Source: The Australian – ‘China felt Rudd failed as friend’
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