Wandering China

An East/West pulse of China's fourth rise from down under.

Australia: Departing ambassador flays Rudd [The Age]


Australia: Former PM and now foreign minister Kevin Rudd gets rebuked by Australia’s ambassador in Beijing, Dr Geoff Raby. ‘[He] launched a thinly veiled attack on Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd in a speech rebuking those who speak Chinese but “do not understand how China works”.’ In his words – “To speak Chinese is not to know China.”

– – –

Departing ambassador flays Rudd
John Garnaut
Source – The Age, published May 19, 2011

Kevin Rudd visiting Beijing in 2008 with Geoff Raby. Photo - The Age

AUSTRALIA’S ambassador in Beijing has launched a thinly veiled attack on Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd in a speech rebuking those who speak Chinese but “do not understand how China works”.

Geoff Raby, whose term as ambassador ends on August 5, did not name his Chinese-speaking boss, but pointedly observed that “one of the biggest challenges has been managing my own team [including] politicians and officials”.

“To speak Chinese is not to know China,” Dr Raby told a high-powered gathering of more than 400 Australian corporate leaders in Beijing yesterday in a speech titled What does it mean to be China literate?

“Many examples can be found of people who speak Mandarin to a high level but who do not understand how China works,” he said. “They may have learnt their Chinese shut up in their study reading the Analects.”

Mr Rudd studied Chinese at the Australian National University under sinologist Pierre Ryckmans, who translated the Analects of Confucius.

Last night a supporter of Mr Rudd suggested Dr Raby would now have time to also read the Analects: “It might be worth the while of the now-unemployed ambassador to shut himself up and read the book.”

Mr Rudd opted not to fuel the dispute. His spokeswoman said he agreed that there were many people outside China who knew the language but did not know how the country worked.

As well as being fluent in Chinese, Mr Rudd worked at the embassy in Beijing in the 1980s before entering Parliament.

While his China knowledge has been eagerly sought after, including by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, many observers say he failed to live up to high expectations of what he could bring to the China relationship.

Last month, the state-owned Global Times blamed Australia’s “Chinese-speaking former prime minister” for a series of conflicts during his term, including over his hawkish 2009 defence white paper.

“The reality overwhelms hysterical ideas,” Global Times editor Hu Xijin told The Age, after contrasting Mr Rudd’s defence posture with Australia’s economic dependency on China.

But President Hu Jintao has never personally rebuked Mr Rudd for speaking Chinese and still getting China wrong, contrary to previous reports.

Dr Raby told the Australian Institute of Company Directors that while learning Chinese was “immensely valuable”, it was neither necessary nor sufficient for understanding China.

He took aim at a broad national failure to come to grips with the rise of China, including at the core of Australian foreign policymaking. “China now matters more to Australia in terms of trade than it matters to any other major country,” he said.

China took a quarter of Australia’s exports, more than South Korea (23.9 per cent), Japan (19.4 per cent), the US (5 per cent), and Britain and Canada (both 3 per cent). “So when we talk about acting with like-minded countries, in respect of our trading relationship, we are today very much alone when dealing with China.”

He said Australian executives and officials needed to know China in its own terms “whether we like it or not”. He implicitly slammed all of Australia’s major companies for basing themselves in foreign-friendly Shanghai rather than Beijing, where decisions are made.

“If you establish your head office in Shanghai, effectively you have tattooed on your forehead ‘I don’t understand China’,” he said.

Tensions over China policy contributed to a strained relationship between Dr Raby and Mr Rudd, as they have between Mr Rudd and Ms Gillard.

Some see Mr Rudd’s hastily planned visit to Guangzhou this weekend through the prism of leadership rivalry, after MsGillard’s low-ambition but accident-free Beijing visit last month. Ms Gillard did not raise China’s military build-up during her visit, but Mr Rudd told an audience in Washington soon after that China was turning east Asia into “a global arms bazaar”.

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