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Thursday 13 Dec 2018 | 09:56 | SYDNEY
Thursday 13 Dec 2018 | 09:56 | SYDNEY

How The Interpreter saw Kevin Rudd



14 November 2013 08:58

The launch of The Interpreter in November 2007 coincided closely with the election of Kevin Rudd to the prime ministership. His name and political legacy are everywhere in our archive of around 8500 posts.

With Rudd announcing his retirement from the Australian parliament late yesterday, thus drawing to a definitive close his Australian political career and perhaps the start of a career on the international stage, I've selected some highlights from our coverage over the years.

Here's Graeme Dobell on Rudd's foreign policy legacy when he lost the prime ministership in 2010:

Rudd also extracted a major international win for Australia out of the global crisis. He was one of the main urgers who ensured that the G20 emerged as pre-eminent, pushing Europe's G7 down the ladder. Mark this as a virtuoso performance of Kevin-on-the-telephone persistence. Out in voter land, though, it tended to be a case of 'G-what?' rather than 'G-whizz!'

If the G20 achievement didn't gain the popular kudos it might, neither did the Prime Minister suffer much for the over-reach of the Asia Pacific Community initiative. The Community mutated into a lower case 'c' community discussion because neither China nor ASEAN were going to be led by Australia in building the Asian institutions for the Asian century.

Rudd was correct in his description of the challenges Asia faces. His delivery failed. Or more accurately, he could not get others to follow the course he wanted to steer from his diagnosis to his solution. As an exercise in regional diplomacy, it was a dismal bust. The Prime Minister of Australia set out to achieve something big for the Asia Pacific but was out-thought and out-fought by Singapore.

Hugh White on Kevin Rudd's foreign policy thought as a backbencher:

One less noted development in Australian foreign policy this year has been the evolution of Kevin Rudd's ideas on the future of the Asian order and the US-China relationship...He sounds clear warnings about the trajectory of that relationship, and argues that fixing this requires the negotiation of a new order in Asia: 'a new Pax Pacifica which is neither a new Pax Americana by another name, nor a Pax Sinica.'

What is most significant about this is Rudd's clear acknowledgment that the status quo of US primacy is not sustainable, and that there is a third alternative between the US primacy and Chinese primacy which both powers need to strive to foster if escalating strategic rivalry is to be avoided. Moreover he says that America should take the initiative in trying to reach this accommodation with China.

Rory Medcalf on Rudd's 'bewildering' Asia legacy:

Two key major-power relationships bruised: Japan and India. A third – with China – subjected to a needless and sometimes counterproductive degree of personalisation. My colleague Andrew Shearer's advice that Gillard needs to 'depersonalise' Canberra-Beijing relations is right. Its implementation would be rather tricky with Rudd as foreign minister.

Perhaps Rudd's greatest misstep in our region was his confusing, lurching advocacy of a loosely-defined Asia-Pacific community. It was never quite clear what he wanted to achieve; what was clear was that for a long time he studiously ignored the need to consult other Asian governments on this, or to respect the fact that many of them had already done a decade's work on the subject and hardly needed to be told how to reinvent the wheel. Among other things, this 'initiative' generated a useless feud with otherwise like-minded Singapore, and is something most of the region would rather pretend never happened.

Me on Rudd's often tortured use of English:

Rudd's idea to use the G20 and the proposed Asia Pacific Community to manage the new global order seems sound. But Rudd's dessicated language only makes me doubt that intuition, since it opens up the possibility that his proposals are as careless and lifeless as the language used to express them.

Malcolm Cook on Rudd's five principles for dealing with Asia:

1. The Asia Pacific and not Asia was the proper region to situate Australia. 

2. The People's Republic of China is and will be the leading regional power in Asia.

3. Managing the tensions of the 'rise of China' within the existing US-led Asia Pacific security order is the great strategic challenge.

4. Major Asian states, including India, deserve a larger global voice and the health of global institutions depends on this being achieved.

5. Non-major powers like Australia need to work hard to ensure their interests are taken into consideration in any changes to the regional order.

Fergus Hanson:

But almost from the get-go the media got Rudd wrong on China. Far from being the Manchurian Candidate, WikiLeaks cables revealed him to be as clear-headed about China and Chinese negotiating strategies as he was in private during that meeting at the Lodge.

According to officials, Rudd led serious Cabinet-level contemplation of Australia's approach to its single largest trading partner, and although it has not been made public until today, produced the first ever (and still secret) Cabinet-approved strategy mapping out our approach to China.

Under his watch, Australia also produced a highly ambitious Defence White Paper, setting up what is essentially a Marine Expeditionary Force designed to be plugged directly into any major US operation in the Pacific (read defence against China). And although it was his successor as PM who ultimately oversaw the delivery, Rudd must be credited with laying some of the groundwork that has seen the US establish what is basically a permanent military base in Australia.

We featured this beautifully made parody as our Friday Funny in June 2010:

Photos by Flickr users London Summit, avlxyz, and Australian Civil-Military Centre.

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