Australia has been asking itself for years whether it needs to choose between the prosperity brought by China and the security of the US alliance. Conventional wisdom has been that we could carefully steer a middle path – but a recent escalation in global tensions has threatened to shatter that equilibrium. A dilemma that has often been debated as theory is now becoming very real, with Australia possibly facing a fork in the road. As China under Xi Jinping becomes more assertive and the Trump Administration’s responses becoming sharper across the board, we have seen intense debates around political influence in Australia, growing tension in the South China Sea, protests in Hong Kong, cyber security challenges, a harsh crackdown against Uighurs in Xinjiang and China now accused of becoming the surveillance state. How much longer can we strike a balancing act between our economy and our security – and our values, for that matter? Whatever we are going to do, it’s time for Australia to have a brutally frank conversation about China. This must include the upside and the downside, China’s positive achievements as well as what threats and challenges it poses. It also means understanding what China’s leaders plan is for the future. We can no longer be guided by prejudice, ignorance and indifference in our national understanding of this extraordinary nation whose future is so important to our own.
Peter Hartcher is a leading Australian journalist and author. He is the political editor and international editor of The Sydney Morning Herald, a visiting fellow at the Lowy Institute for International Policy and a political commentator for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and Sky News television.
He has been writing about power and politics, war and peace, booms and busts for more than 30 years. His latest book is for the Quarterly Essay, entitled Red Flag: Waking Up to China’s Challenge.
The Honourable Kevin Rudd served as Australia’s 26th Prime Minister (2007-2010, 2013) and as Foreign Minister (2010- 2012). He led Australia’s response during the Global Financial Crisis—the only major developed economy not to go into recession—and helped found the G20. Mr. Rudd joined the Asia Society Policy Institute in New York as its inaugural President in January 2015. In 2015-16, Mr. Rudd led a review of the UN system as chair of the Independent Commission on Multilateralism. In February 2014, Mr. Rudd was named a Senior Fellow with Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, where he completed a major policy paper, U.S.-China 21: The Future of U.S.-China Relations Under Xi Jinping.
Mr. Rudd is Chair of the Board of the International Peace Institute, and Chair of Sanitation and Water for All. He is a Distinguished Fellow at Chatham House in London, a Distinguished Statesman with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC, a Distinguished Fellow at the Paulson Institute in Chicago, and a member of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty Organization’s Group of Eminent Persons. Mr. Rudd is a member of the Concordia Leadership Council. He serves on the International Advisory Board of the Schwarzman Scholars program at Tsinghua University, and is an Honorary Professor at Peking University. Mr. Rudd is proficient in Mandarin Chinese. He also remains actively engaged in indigenous reconciliation.
Vicky Xiuzhong Xu is a researcher for the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Cyber Policy Centre.
Previously, she was a journalist for The New York Times Sydney Bureau, covering general news with a focus on China-Australia relations. She also covered China and Chinese diaspora communities for Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Asia Pacific Newsroom in Melbourne.
She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of Melbourne. During her exchange semester in Jerusalem, she researched One Belt One Road, China-Iran and China-Turkey relations at The Harry S. Truman Research Institute.
Yaqiu Wang is a China researcher at Human Rights Watch. Her articles have appeared in Foreign Policy, The Atlantic and China Brief, and elsewhere.