When Kevin Rudd concentrates on issues he knows about – like China – he is seriously worth listening to.
Economics, not so much.
Yesterday he released a transcript of his address to the Asia Society Japan Roundtable on U.S.-China Relations. Drop everything and read it. It’s the sober analysis you’ve been waiting for.
What Rudd says … in a nutshell
Rudd makes the point that China is waiting to engage with the US after some key events have taken place. Such as the midterms. Such as the Mueller investigation. They’re in no hurry.
This is obvious, but Rudd goes further into the psychology of China and the leadership.
Rudd identifies that:
If China is to choose to negotiate, rather than double down, the almost impossible diplomatic art form late this year and early next year will lie in the construction of a deal which the Trump Administration finds acceptable, but which cannot be conceived in Beijing or around the world as a significant loss of Chinese face.
The greater the American public commentary on the need for Xi Jinping to make concessions, the greater the difficulty in constructing such a deal. Both in its content, and in its presentation.
This is a problem (along with readability, but that’s another issue). Trump will do all he can to hammer home a ‘win’ against China. That obviously won’t work for China.
In fact, over long term, whatever the short-term win, it won’t work for the US:
Whatever the outcome, the impact on Chinese attitudes to the United States in the future, way beyond the fault lines of the current debate, will be profound. And we are only seeing the very beginning of the deep reappraisal of Chinese long-term strategy towards the United States. These processes take much time in the Chinese system. And it will be some considerable time before we see evidence of any change in China’s declaratory and operational course as it continues to pursue its own national objectives.
More importantly, China knows that Trump, if he wins the next election, will not be there in six years. He has a term limit.
Xi, on the other hand, is there for as long as he wants to be. More or less.
China also knows that Trump is unique. There will be no Trump-lite. So the US leadership is likely to revert to the status quo. That’s a win for China, and the next US President might well give huge concessions as an apology for his bombastic predecessor in much the same was as Obama apologised throughout the Middle East when he became president.
Rudd’s analysis landed on the same day The Australian published a long piece about the US-China trade war from John Lee, a senior fellow at the United States Studies Centre and Hudson Institute in Washington DC.
Lee’s article suffers from a lack of space. The analysis is lighter than Rudd’s but more pointed.
It also alludes to Trump being a strategic genius. Although it goes nowhere near saying this because no credible analyst wants to say that Trump is playing underwater 3-D Hungry Hungry Hippo with the board on fire (thank you, Mr Shapiro).
But that’s what Trump is doing. And #winning. The evidence is that as Trump has increased pressure on China, he has also “agreed [to a trade deal] with Canada and Mexico to revise NAFTA, agreed terms with South Korea, begun renegotiating with Japan, and made progress for an eventual trade deal with the European Union”.
In Lee’s words “the president has got the sequencing right”.
In layman’s terms, he’s getting his ducks lined up.
Read both articles. They’re well worth the effort.