Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd joked about interacting with many Chinese youth who seemed to prioritize materialism over Marxist ideals — just one of many examples of China’s multidimensionality — while discussing China’s future prospects. In a talk titled “Understanding China under Xi Jinping,” Rudd delved into the current political situation under China’s president yesterday afternoon as a part of the Watson Distinguished Speaker Series and the China Initiative.
The event was mediated by Brian Atwood, senior fellow for international studies and public affairs. In an introduction, Atwood stressed Rudd’s role in helping Australia overcome the financial crisis and advocating for action against climate change by ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, a United Nations agreement aimed at reducing emissions.
“I’m the definition of an area studies guy,” Rudd said in reference to his engagement with China “as a scholar, businessman, bureaucrat, diplomat, foreign minister and prime minister.” Rudd’s work with China includes his positions as president of the Asia Society Policy Institute and co-chair of the China Global Affairs Council of the World Economic Forum. Rudd is also fluent in Mandarin Chinese and has authored a policy report titled “Alternative Futures for U.S.-China Relations.”
Rudd opened his talk by explaining how scholars can better understand the complex issues and identity of China, urging them to “understand the world as seen from Beijing” and not from an outside perspective. “The beginning of wisdom in understanding China’s view of the world is to understand China’s view of itself,” Rudd added.
“Xi Jinping is at the apex of the Chinese political system. It’s important that we have a good understanding of how he sees his country, his party and China’s place in the world,” Rudd said. To enhance comprehension of Xi’s worldview, Rudd proposed a seven concentric circle model based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs — a psychological theory reflecting human motivations. He stated that the first and foundational circle is the Chinese Communist Party and its continuing clout, which is Xi’s primary concern. Rudd listed several other aspects, including economic policy and living standards, until he reached the seventh circle — China’s place in the world at large.
Xi’s rise to power is closely linked with the strengthening of China’s national identity, Rudd said. He emphasized the role of propaganda in combining China’s nationalism with communist party imagery to create a “combined Chinese contemporary political consciousness.”
During the discussion session following his talk, Rudd elaborated on China’s international relations. He explained that China’s relationship with North Korea results from China’s desire to have a neighboring ally, which is greater than its hope to have an ally without nuclear weaponry.
While exploring U.S.-China relations, Rudd explained that China’s strategic policy looks at President Trump as a “strategic opportunity” as well as an “uncertainty.” The former results from the Trump administration’s role in abating the ideas of Western liberal democracy, while the latter stems from Trump’s strategic unpredictability, Rudd said.
Karen Ka ’21, a Herald copy editor, said she was especially convinced by Rudd’s multidimensional analysis. “He really went into depth about all the different factors you have to consider in international relations. It was really interesting and eye-opening,” she said.
“The reality of China today breaks out of any box,” Rudd said, describing the Chinese “international identity.” Besides Marxist ideology, Rudd emphasized the essentiality of culture and history in shaping China’s international worldview and politics.
Correction: An earlier version of the caption accompanying this article stated that Kevin Rudd has previously served as president of the Asia Society Policy Institute and co-chair of the China Global Affairs Council of the World Economic Forum. In fact, Kevin Rudd currently serves as president of the Asia Society Policy Institute and co-chair of the China Global Affairs Council of the World Economic Forum.