Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin M. Rudd urged the U.S. and Chinese governments to develop a common strategic narrative to improve their relations during a John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum panel at the Institute of Politics on Monday night.
Titled “U.S.-China Under Xi Jinping: From Strategic Collision to Common Purpose?," the event was moderated by Kennedy School of Government professor Graham T. Allison and also featured Kennedy School professors Anthony J. Saich and Meghan L. O’Sullivan. Saich and O’Sullivan critiqued Rudd’s forthcoming report “U.S.-China 21: The Future of U.S.-China Relations Under Xi Jinping.”
In the executive summary of his forthcoming report, Rudd emphasized the importance that China and the U.S. avoid the “Thucydides Trap,” a theory proposed by Allison that purports that when a rising power emerges in international relations, fear drives the established power to war. Although Rudd insisted during the panel that the U.S. and China are currently at very low risk of military conflict, the underlying framework behind U.S.-China relations can be significantly improved.
“There is a grave danger that the two countries will drift apart and a long-term crisis or conflict will emerge. There are ways to minimize the chance of that happening,” he said.
Consequently, Rudd said he proposes regular, annual summits in which the leaders of both countries meet to discuss common goals and identify areas in which they can cooperate.
“The idea behind a regular, working summit is that if you do enough on the constructive side, it will build up strategic trust,” he said.
Saich, for his part, said China has historically not been successful in maintaining bilateral relationships.
Although O’Sullivan generally lauded Rudd’s report, she did take issue with several aspects of it. She said one piece of Rudd’s analysis with which she took issue was China’s willingness to take on a superpower role in solving global crises.
“Where I have my skepticism is to what extent is China interested in being a steward of the global order and in the sort of role that the U.S. takes as a global problem solver,” she said. “China’s view as a global order seems to be instrumental, in that China is interested in global order when it helps its own interests.”
Rudd, in response, warned against reaching the conclusion that China will only act in its own interest in the global arena.
“If we reach that hard and fast conclusion, that’s how it will turn out,” Rudd said.
—Staff writer Michael S. Avi-Yonah can be reached at email@example.com.
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