Kevin Rudd Fields Questions About Julia Gillard And Lindsay Tanner

This is the full transcript of Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd’s interview with Tony Jones on Lateline.

After taking questions on China, Rudd was asked about Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s command of foreign policy. Jones also asked about reports that Rudd referred to the Chinese as “ratfuckers” – “copulating rodents”, according to Jones – at the Copenhagen climate change summit in 2009.

Rudd was also asked about his suspicions that Lindsay Tanner leaked details of discussions amongst the so-called Gang of Four (Rudd, Gillard, Swan and Tanner).

  • Listen to Rudd (5m)

Transcript of Kevin Rudd’s interview with Tony Jones on Lateline.

TONY JONES, PRESENTER: The United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will arrive in Australia on Sunday for the Australia-United States ministerial meeting, known as AUSMIN.

It’s expected she’ll be discussing, among other issues, the United States’ increasing concern about China’s military expansion.

Our own Foreign Minister, Kevin Rudd, has offered a third way of dealing with China. He’s in Beijing at the moment and I spoke to him just a short time ago.

Kevin Rudd, thanks for joining us.

KEVIN RUDD, FOREIGN MINISTER: Good to be on the program.

JONES: Now, you’ve talked recently about a third way of dealing with China that involves neither conflict nor kowtowing. What do you mean exactly by that?

RUDD: What I mean, Tony, is that for many, many years now, the debate in Western countries in particular, and to some extent even within China itself, has said that there’s only two ways of approaching the rise of this great power.

One is that we’re in some sort of incipient or emerging conflict with China, and the other is the only way forward is to kowtow, in other words to comply with everything China says.

I don’t think either of those paths is productive. I think there is a rational third way to proceed, and I believe that can be done through a comprehensive political and economic relationship where we agree on our common interests, both in the region, both at a world stage and bilaterally as well, but also not walking away from those areas in which we disagree.

I think that’s the right and rational way to proceed, rather than having this simple, black/white alternative which frankly doesn’t lend itself to the great complexity that is modern China.

JONES: OK. Using that method, how should Australia respond to China’s rapid expansion of its offensive military capability?

RUDD: Well, on that question, we’ve got to acknowledge a number of facts. One is, as China becomes a wealthier country and its GDP rises, it follows that its allocation of funding to military resources will also rise, and that’s occurred with countries right around the world and basically throughout history.

The second is this though: and that is, with China, we also need to recognise that other countries around the world and the region are increasing their military outlays.

But again on the specificity of China and the size of the country and the size of its military forces, there are continuing questions about, number one, the capabilities which China is acquiring; two, the doctrine or intentions to which those capabilities would be put; and three, broadly on the transparency of military budgeting as well.

That’s where we need to see progress and that’s where we’re engaging directly and frankly our Chinese friends.

JONES: What’s the rationale for this extra Chinese military spending for this expansion of their offensive capability, as I put it? I’m wondering what do they see as military threats to their sovereignty?

RUDD: Well, historically I think it’s fair to say, Tony, that China’s overall military posture, at least at a conventional level, and in terms of some of its theatre weapons as well, has been built around what’s called the Taiwan contingency.

China, as you know, has long said that Taiwan is a part of the People’s Republic and it doesn’t withdraw from its position that in extremis it would use military force to regain Taiwan and retain it to the sovereignty of the PRC.

Is any of that an immediate prospect? No. Relations across the Taiwan straits now are better than they’ve ever been since 1949? Yes. But if you wanna know what one of the core organising principles has been for China’s military modernisation, it’s been that.

However, just let me just add one other point: as China acquires that capability, what happens is, it also acquires capabilities which are more able to be deployed beyond the Taiwan contingency, and that’s why we need greater transparency with the Chinese, greater common exercising with the Chinese so we don’t have accidents, mishaps or misperceptions at sea between our respective navies and those of the United States; and thirdly, as I said, a greater clarity in Chinese military doctrine.

That’s why we have, for example, a bilateral defence dialogue with the Chinese at chief-of-defence force level.

JONES: The United States is certainly very concerned about China’s rapid military expansion. That’s gonna be a key issue when you speak to Hillary Clinton in Australia this week, is it not?

RUDD: Well I won’t foreshadow the content of what goes on in AUSMIN negotiations. This is an important forum for Australia and the United States. The Secretary of State, the Defense Secretary and the Australian counterpart Stephen Smith and myself.

But in China – let me just tackle your question from a slightly different angle.

In the next couple of days I’ll be meeting General Chen Bingde, who’s the chief of the general staff here of the People’s Liberation Army here in Beijing and these are the questions which I’ll continue to discuss with him as I have in the past, and I’m sure his Australian counterpart Angus Houston has as well.

This is the sort of content to the defence security and strategic dialogue we’ve been evolving with the Chinese for quite a number of years now.

Quite frank, quite to the point, but in the overall framework of a very friendly, very productive and very economically important bilateral relationship.

JONES: But Hillary Clinton’s been quite frank about this and indeed the Americans – the Pentagon’s undergoing a large-scale review of its global standing, military standing, particularly vis-a-vis China. I mean, you’d have to think that’d be part of your talks.

RUDD: The United States like Australia shares a common interest with the People’s Republic of China, and that is to maintain the stability and peace of this Asia-Pacific region.

That stability and peace has underpinned the phenomenal economic growth and prosperity we’ve seen in this region over the last 30 or 40 years. And, looking to the next 30 or 40 years, we need to see a continuation of that, and that must be a core focus for our diplomacy.

If I just to put it in a slightly different way: I believe one of the core challenges for the 21st Century, or at least this first half of the 21st Century, is to make sure that we, the United States, its allies and other friends in the region, together with China, work together to frame a common sense of security co-operation, even security community, or a concept of it, in our wider East Asia-West Pacific region to avoid any conflict.

JONES: Another global issue involving China is climate change. How do you assess the importance of these two issues: China’s growing military power and China’s response to climate change?

RUDD: Well I believe if you sort of pushed all the day-to-day to and fro of politics at home and abroad just to one side for a moment and just stood back for a moment and drew breath, there are two or three big ones which are facing our country and most countries in the region and indeed the world over the next several decades which we must get right.

Number one is climate change, and make sure that our actions abroad match – our actions at home match our commitment abroad to bring down greenhouse gas emissions. Otherwise our common interest in the planet are frankly undermined, and that’s fundamental to everything else.

But number two I think, in terms of global priorities, is this phenomenal growth of China. Its economic footprint, its economic power, its diplomatic presence, the matters we’ve just been discussing in terms of its military capabilities as well, and how the region and the world at large embraces and manages the emergence of this new great power.

JONES: Now presumably climate will be also high on your agenda in talks with Hillary Clinton, the AUSMIN talks. How much harder is it going to be to see serious or to get serious United States action on climate change now that Obama has lost control or the Democrats have lost control of Congress?

RUDD: Well, I’m sure we Australians could exchange a few notes with the Americans on that question. As you know, in the period of the last Parliament we sought to pass our own emissions trading scheme through the Australian Parliament and Senate on two occasions and on both those occasions had it rejected by the conservative-dominated Australian Senate.

In the United States now of course, based on the figures that I have just heard here in Beijing, the Republicans have control of the House and the Democrats are likely to maintain control of the Senate.

So this is gonna be tough going in terms of the Democrats’ previous commitment to a cap-and-trade system, but let’s see what happens.

Also we’ve gotta be very careful in our analysis of American actions in terms of other possibilities which may be within their armoury to deal with the challenge of climate change as well.

Principal carriage here of course lies with Greg Combet. He’ll be dealing very closely with the Americans; in fact I know from my conversations with him, he was on the phone to his American counterpart only last week in preparations for Cancun.

It’s hard for the Americans, given their system of government. It’s hard for us. But it should not deter us from landing an outcome for our nations and for the planet.

JONES: Let’s go back to China for a minute and your third-way approach didn’t seem to work too well with the Chinese in Copenhagen. What went wrong there?

RUDD: I believe that in the preparations for Copenhagen, we didn’t strike enough pre-agreement between the major developed countries, including the United States, ourselves and the Europeans and China and India on the other.

As we move forward through Cancun and Durban and onto Rio again, we’ve gotta make sure that that work is done well in advance so we have manageable agendas for agreement on ambitious outcomes, because the planet cannot wait and cannot endure further delay.

JONES: I’ve gotta ask you this: is it true that you used a metaphor involving copulating rodents to describe the behaviour of the Chinese negotiators in Copenhagen?

RUDD: Tony, I’m not gonna comment on that one bit. It was very late in the evening, I gave an off-the-record briefing to a whole bunch of Australian journalists and it was now about nine months ago. So, I’ll leave that stand well within the parameters of the ethics of your profession.

JONES: Indeed. Julia Gillard is still on training wheels when it comes to foreign policy. How would you rate her performance so far?

RUDD: Well the first point is I disagree with that proposition.

As I’ve seen the Prime Minister engage with international counterparts and read the reports of her engagements with international counterparts, she is effectively arguing the Australian national interest on a whole bunch of complex matters where we’ve got big interests on the table.

As for the way in which we conduct foreign policy in Australia, as it’s been in the past, the Prime Minister necessarily leads; foreign ministers work in support of the Prime Minister. That’s been the case when I was prime minister. That’ll be the case now as well.

JONES: It’s a big world out there, though, for a leader who’d rather be sitting in a classroom than in some sort of foreign conference or speaking to foreign leaders – has no passion for it. I mean, are you helping to guide her through this?

RUDD: The Prime Minister has many highly competent foreign policy advisors, many of whom advised me in the past. They are located both within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, they are located within the Prime Minister’s department and elsewhere.

And beyond that, can I say that the challenges we face around the world are great on the very big questions, some of which we’ve touched upon on this interview. Of course that requires prime ministerial leadership. In other lesser matters, as occurred when Stephen Smith was foreign minister, and foreign ministers go out and deal with the detail.

Importantly though, fundamental principles of cabinet government apply and for the Australian national interest, when you’ve got such big questions at stake like China and how we manage China’s future in our own region, the emergence of this new institution, the East-Asian Summit, which reflects so much of our argument in recent years for an Asia-Pacific community, how we deal with the challenge of regional and global terrorism, how we deal with the great challenge of climate change, these are big nation-wide decisions which affect, frankly, most members of the Cabinet and their portfolios and that’s where Cabinet again takes the lead as well.

JONES: Briefly, we’re starting to see a kickback by those in Labor’s left who are concerned at losing political ground to the Greens. Now, Greg Combet, who you mentioned earlier, says Labor needs to rebuild its standing on issues like climate change, where vote-switching was caused by the deferral of an emissions trading scheme. Do you agree with that, first of all?

RUDD: Well first of all, I don’t intend to engage in debates about domestic politics one bit, least of all while I’m here in China prosecuting the national interest. As for debates within the party and our future direction, they’re properly held internally within the party.

Greg Combet is a fine minister and of course he, like many of us, is concerned about the party’s future. He has spoken out on that subject. He’s right to do so. But as for me being drawn into that little hornet’s nest, Tony, nice try, but I don’t intend to.

JONES: Here’s another quick hornet’s nest I’m bound to ask you: if as prime minister you used to hold fake pre-budget meetings with the Gang of Four to make sure that Lindsay Tanner didn’t leak details to the media, as has been reported?

RUDD: Well the first thing I’d say is that Lindsay Tanner was, is and will be a very, very close friend of mine.

Secondly, that report is without foundation as far as I am concerned, but in terms of going into the entrails of all of that, again, nice try; I don’t intend to go further. There’s gonna be a lot of attempts to put colour and spin on things. That’s fine. Others can do that. I’m on about the Australian national interest. I’m on about what you do as Foreign Minister to prosecute that interest and on the big questions we’ve been talking about tonight, because they affect our kids and our country over the course of the next half-century. That’s what I’m about.

JONES: Yes, of course, you could squash that story completely by saying it’s not true. It seems that you have just done that.

RUDD: Well, I’ll let you interpret my remarks as you see fit.

JONES: Kevin Rudd, we’ll undoubtedly do that, along with everyone else who’s watching. We thank you very much for taking the time to join us tonight from Beijing.

RUDD: Thanks very much, Tony. Good to be on the program.

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