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Former Prime Minister of Australia Kevin Rudd discussed the current state of U.S.-China relations and the possibility of future conflict between the two countries at the JFK, Jr. Forum Thursday night.
The discussion — which centered around “The Avoidable War,” a book of major speeches delivered by Rudd in 2018 — was moderated by Graham T. Allison, a government professor at the Kennedy School, and Jane Perlez, a New York Times correspondent who covers Chinese foreign policy.
Rudd, who currently serves as the president of the Asia Society Policy Institute, began the talk by sharing details about his book. He explained that, per the title, he believes that military conflict between the two superpowers can be avoided.
“War might be seen by some as inevitable — I don’t have that view,” Rudd said. “It might be seen by some as probable — I don’t actually share that view, either. But I do think that it is possible, through mutual mismanagement and a very difficult decade ahead.”
Rudd also explained the principle behind his book, a concept he calls “managed strategic competition.” He noted that there are currently two prevailing schools of thought on the state of U.S.-China relations: one that emphasizes American economic dominance, and one that advocates for Chinese political supremacy.
“What I’ve tried to do is identify a third way, which is, ‘How could these two mature states, who between them actually have much historical wisdom, how can they navigate a peaceful but competitive future between them?’” Rudd said.
Perlez said she believes a total American or Chinese victory is improbable, and asked Rudd about his view on the details of negotiations between the U.S. and China about power struggles in the Indo-Pacific region. In response, Rudd said that he believed the current state of affairs was likely to continue into the future.
“There are plenty of things that can go wrong in the China model, but it’s prudent for everyone to assume that this model, which has been around for 40 years or so, is going to bumble on, and on balance, continue to work, to a greater or lesser degree,” he said.
Several forum attendees said that Rudd’s ideas piqued their interest.
Noriyuki Shikata — who served as the Deputy Chief of Mission at the Embassy of Japan in China and currently serves as an associate at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs — said he was interested in Rudd’s idea of managed strategic competition.
“I don't have a lot of difficulties in accepting this concept, but still, I guess he’s working on this concept in this book,” Shikata said.
“And today, I guess, you know, time is so limited, that we didn't hear very much about the content of this idea, so I’m really looking forward to the reading,” he added.
Benjamin B. Bolger, an alum of the Graduate School of Design, said he found Rudd to be a “profound leader” with “penetrating insights and deep analysis.”
“He spoke to the current dynamic, where the current leader of China may have plans to be in office for a considerable time,” Bolger said. “And it'll be very interesting to see how the U.S. and Australia deal with that evolving dynamic of internal power in China, and how it affects foreign policy both for America and Australia.”
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