Hu’s Rudd’s biggest headache
餵。我的名字是凱文，我有一個非常大的問題 (Translation: Hello, my name is Kevin and I have a very big problem).
Oh how Kevin Rudd must be wishing right now for a dirty stoush with, oh, let’s say Malaysia, or Indonesia, or even better, one of the African nations.
How terribly unlucky for the Prime Minister that his first bona fide diplomatic crisis involves China. Our man in Beijing is facing calls to personally intervene in the case of Australian Rio Tinto executive Stern Hu, who’s being held without charge by Chinese authorities on suspicion of commercial espionage.
The Mandarin-speaking Sinophile who had rooms full of Chinese students eating out of the palm of his hand and the 2007 APEC meeting stunned at his international man of mystery shtick, now has to come up with the goods.
A show down with Hu Jintao is not what Mr Rudd’s media team ordered, which might explain why the only Government type out and about on the issue yesterday was Lindsay Tanner. While there is a financial element to this story (a fall in Australian resources stocks has been attributed to nerves about our trading relationship), it would have been nice to hear from someone other than the Finance Minister.
The PM’s team would not have been too pleased with reports the operation that nabbed Mr Hu was approved by none other than the Chinese president himself. This has led to reams of analysis about the root cause of the crisis, China’s motives, and what Kevin Rudd can do about it.
Glenn Milne argued yesterday Mr Rudd may have even brought the situation upon himself by first cozying up to the Chinese so much he then had to do an about-face and actively snub them because of how things were playing in the electorate at home.
You can bet the Opposition will be encouraging that same electorate to keep a very close eye on what happens to Mr Hu. And any outcome other than a strategic diplomatic win by Australia will leave a large chunk of Kevin Rudd’s carefully constructed image looking like just that - a careful construction.
In 2007 there was something a bit glamorous about Mr Rudd’s China syndrome. He even romanticised the rats in the apartment he and his young bride Therese shared in Beijing early in their marriage, when Mr Rudd was a junior diplomat.
He and his campaign team exploited his understanding of and affection for China as a very clear point of difference between Mr Rudd and John Howard, who in so many other ways were so similar.
Yes he might have been a nerdy economic conservative (this was before the Global Financial Crisis outed Mr Rudd’s penchant for humongous Government Debt) with glasses and pigeon toes, but he was no John Howard - he could speak Mandarin, you know.
With China ascendant a lot of people would have thought it would be an excellent thing for Australia to have a PM with walk-in rights in the offices of the PRC’s political elite. So it’s pretty understandable people now expect him to use any pull he has and get Mr Hu released.
The diplomatic crunch has comes on top of Mr Rudd’s embarrassing faux pas at the G8, where he demonstrated again his tendency to say one thing in public and another thing altogether behind closed doors.
For a trained diplomat, his skills in international diplomacy are looking a bit shaky.
Of course, if the Chinese do right by Mr Rudd and release Mr Hu quickly, we shouldn’t begrudge the Government a modest amount of gloating.
But the longer the situation wears on, the more markers by which Mr Rudd’s China credentials can be measured will be passed, and the more voters may question his ability to deliver.
It is a situation he created himself.
Read all about it
Up to the minute Twitter chatter
The latest and greatest
Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…
I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…
In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…