Following on from yesterday … I have cited and discussed the views of former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who is pretty well known China watcher, on more than one occasion, because I believe he usually has something very useful to say. Mr Rudd begins a very worthwhile analysis in the Sydney Morning Herald with a brief survey of his 40+ years of studying and dealing with China, sometimes at the highest levels. His message is pretty simple, it’s for Australians but it applies, almost word-for-word to Canada, too: Australia (and Canada) he says, “should also understand the difference between operational and declaratory strategy. One of the failures of the current government is to shoot its mouth off about everything and believe that this somehow adds up to a strategy. It doesn’t. In fact, it’s just political self-indulgence, driven by its perception of domestic political opportunity rather than advancing our interests with China.” That applies 100% to Justin Trudeau’s Canada.
Kevin Rudd says to Australians, but Canadians need to understand this just as much, that “To understand where Australia fits in the wider scheme of things, it’s important to begin by understanding the political and policy priorities of Xi Jinping’s China. I see them as a set of 10 concentric circles … [he saw them as seven back in May 2018 (1st link, above) and, he says] … It helps to understand what the world looks like when viewed from the weekly meeting of the standing committee of the Politburo, before we then decide what our best strategy should be in response.” His ten strategic priorities, for China, are:
- “Number one, keep the party in power and never yield to any argument that it should transition to more democratic forms of governance;
- Two, sustain and secure the unity of the motherland, hence the unyielding approach in Tibet and Xinjiang, anxiety over Hong Kong, and the great unfinished business of Taiwan;
- Three, grow the economy to become a fully advanced economy and the world’s largest economy within the next thirty years, as the basis of China’s long-term national power, and continue to improve people’s living standards along the way in order to sustain party legitimacy;
- Four, ensure China’s relations with its 14 neighbouring states are as benign as possible, and ultimately as compliant as possible, to China’s stated core national interests, including the fundamental strategic transformation of the relationship with Russia to that of a de-facto security and foreign policy alliance;
- Five, because of large-scale environmental pollution during the first 30 years of unconstrained economic growth, resulting in large-scale popular unrest, entrench sustainable development (including climate change action) as an additional economic and planning discipline for the future;
- Six, modernise the Chinese military, using fully integrated operations, information warfare as well as classical power projection capabilities, to return Taiwan by force if necessary, assert China’s other unresolved territorial claims, and begin articulating China’s aspirations to be a global great power;
- Seven, on China’s maritime periphery to the east, push US forces back behind the second island chain, fracture US alliances in Asia, thereby enhancing China’s future Taiwan contingencies;
- Eight, on China’s continental periphery to its west, deploy the Belt and Road Initiative to turn wider Eurasia into a new zone of economic opportunity and foreign and security policy influence for Beijing, extending to Western Europe, South and South East Asia and the Middle East;
- Nine, build on half a century of aid diplomacy in Africa and Latin America to secure new markets, as well as political support for China’s multilateral interests whenever needed; and
- Ten, begin the gradual refashioning of the global rules-based order in a manner more compatible with China’s interests and values, through personnel, institutional and cultural change within existing multilateral institutions, while creating a new set of arrangements beyond the UN and the Bretton Woods system.“
Those are not radically different from the seven he offered earlier and the master principle remains the absolute centrality of the (misnamed) Communist Party in China’s governance. China is, it seems to me, willing to negotiate with others about priorities four, five and eight through ten. The other five are, it seems to me, non-negotiable. I think number three is the key, but it also might be Xi Jinping’s Achilles’ heel.
The key thing that former Prime Minister Rudd says is what Australia, and again this applies, in general, to Canada, too, needs to do about it.
First, he says, there is a pressing need to “Develop, agree and regularly update a classified, cabinet-level national China strategy. China has one for the US and all its allies. The US is beginning to develop one towards China. It would be negligent for Australia not to have our own … [and he adds] … Such a strategy should be cabinet-driven. It should be crystal-clear about our national objectives in relation to China, just as it should be clear in its understanding of what China’s objectives are in relation to Australia. It should be brutally pragmatic about how we go about realising those objectives over time by the full deployment of all arms of Australian statecraft. It should also be shared as appropriate with our principal allies. And it should be subject to systematic annual review.” This applies 100% to Canada, too. We need a whole of government, “brutally pragmatic,” national strategy to guide our relations with China.
“Australia’s national China strategy,” Mr Rudd says “should be anchored in three core understandings: first, China respects strength and consistency and is contemptuous of weakness and prevarication; second, China too has net strengths and weaknesses of which Australian strategists should be aware in framing our own strategy; third, Australia should be equally aware of our own strengths, weaknesses and vulnerabilities.” Again this applies 100% to Canada, too, and going back to yesterday’s comment, we need to grasp his first point: China is “contemptuous of weakness.”
He says that the “Australian strategy should also understand the difference between operational and declaratory strategy. One of the failures of the current government is to shoot its mouth off about everything and believe that this somehow adds up to a strategy. It doesn’t. In fact, it’s just political self-indulgence, driven by its perception of domestic political opportunity rather than advancing our interests with China … [and] … Australia in this respect should learn from Japan and India. Both countries have fundamental security problems with China, including significant contested territory. But both manage to be able to prosecute a balanced strategy towards China which protects their security interests, advancing their economic interests and doing so with regular summitry.” It is a “balanced strategy” that is needed: one that plays to our strengths and to China’s weaknesses … one that is not just about doing business with China but one which is not “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,” which is, I think, the current Trumpian response.
Kevin Rudd makes two other points that also apply, in part, to Canada:
First, he says, “Australia must diversify its international economic engagement. We have become too China-dependent. We need to diversify further to Japan, India, Indonesia, Europe and Africa – the next continent with a rising middle class with more than a billion consumers. We must equally diversify our economy itself.” In Canada’s case, that should read: ‘Canada must diversify its international economic engagement. We have become too USA-dependent. We need to diversify further to Japan, India, Indonesia, Europe and Africa – the next continent with a rising middle class with more than a billion consumers. We must equally diversify our economy itself.‘ I only changed two words to make in a Canadian imperative … one I have discussed before.
Second, former Prime Minister Rudd opines, “Australia must continue to consolidate its alliance with the United States. This should be matched with consistent Australian defence effort for the long term – of the type outlined a decade ago on the 2009 White Paper. The alliance remains an enormous force multiplier for Australia at every level. It remains a critical factor impacting China’s long-term strategic perceptions of Australia. It creates greater respect in Beijing for Australia, not less, given that China continues to recognise the formidable capabilities of the US armed forces and the closeness of the alliance relationship Canberra has with Washington.” That applies, also, to Canada but we need to add NATO and Australia and New Zealand to that mix. Canada needs a “consistent” and much strengthened and better-funded Canadian “defence effort for the long term,” and needs to be tied to a robust, principled foreign policy that does not seek to find or to make enemies but, rather, identifies friends and allies and treats the rest as competitors rather than as adversaries … until they prove to be the latter.