Rudd needs a Hugh Grant moment to stand up to China
The Prime Minister has his mojo back on the domestic front thanks to some Kevin07-style plain-speaking and a victorious health debate. Now it is time for him to strut his stuff on the world stage and become an “arse-kicking Prime Minister”, starting with China.
A lot has been written about acting and politics in the last few weeks since Opposition Leader Tony Abbott turned down acting lessons. In my favourite movie Love Actually there is a famous scene involving the heartthrob British Prime Minister played by Hugh Grant. Annoyed by a misogynist American President he stands up to him for taking advantage of their bilateral friendship.
“I love that word relationship,” the Prime Minister begins, with his beautiful admirer of a secretary Natalie walking in on the press conference.
“Covers all manner of sins doesn’t it? I fear that this has become a bad relationship; a relationship based on the President taking exactly what he wants and casually ignoring all those that really matter to, erm… Britain”.
Hugh Grant’s character then in his trademark, suave-yet-satirical way, rattles off the reasons that make Britain a great country vowing to stand up to a bully President.
Later in the movie, a radio announcer describes him as an “arse kicking Prime Minister” for his efforts, which is what inspires his infamous dance scene through Number 10.
Putting aside the fact that based on Rudd’s treatment of air-hostesses and the demands on his staff none of his secretaries are likely to be swooning for him, there are some important lessons our own Prime Minister can take from this.
First and foremost, that we need to stand up to our own bully in China.
When former Rio Tinto executive Stern Hu was sentenced last week to ten years in prison for bribery it surely should have been the last straw in our ‘softly softly’ approach to the communist power.
The perplexing reality of the Hu case is that as he marches off to prison for receiving bribes, no one in China has been charged or even seriously pursued for soliciting them.
But this is just one more instance of China taking advantage of what many thought would become a “very special relationship” with the election of a Sinophile Rudd in 2007.
Instead our relationship with China has gone backwards, as it seeks to exert itself more powerfully on the world stage with little regard for its closest friends. Many debate whether this is a sign of a growing self-confidence on the part of Beijing or an increasing apprehension about the future.
It is all part of China’s doctrine of “soft power” outlined by Joshua Kurlantzick in his book The Charm Offensive: How China’s Soft Power is Transforming the World, which Rudd presented to President Bush when he was still Opposition Leader in 2007.
China’s recalcitrant behaviour at Copenhagen was widely reported and its constant protests surrounding the Dalai Lama’s travels border on the absurd. Last month, it was also reported that the Rudd Government had a secret understanding with Beijing that no minister would travel to Taiwan during its first term. The Chinese Foreign Ministry even chastised Rudd last week for expressing his desire for increased transparency in the Hu case and access for consular officials in line with a 1999 bilateral agreement.
The question is what has Australia gained through its policy of appeasement?
The Prime Minister has been putting off raising these issues with the Chinese President Hu Jintao until the June meeting of the G20 in Canada, but the situation has become too dire.
With the confirmation late last week that the Chinese President will travel to the US next week for a nuclear summit, there has been increasing pressure on Rudd this week to also attend. The Summit’s rescheduling means it no longer coincides with the all important COAG meeting on health, and President Obama’s cancelled trip last month means there is all the more reason for Rudd to attend.
This should be followed up with a straight talking visit to China later in the year.
Rudd is already likely to visit the Shanghai World Expo at some point, probably around November when the G20 meets again in Seoul and APEC in Japan. Unfortunately given our relations with the Japanese are edgy means a visit is unlikely to occur before the APEC gathering to give equal time to both countries.
But when that moment finally arrives it is time for Kevin Rudd to take a leaf out of Hugh Grant’s script and become an “arse kicking Prime Minister”.
Perhaps it could go something like this: We may be a small country, but we’re a great one, too. The country of Vegemite, Robert Menzies, the Wiggles, Hugh Jackman, the Crocodile Hunter, Shane Warne’s right arm. Shane Warne’s left arm for texting, come to that. And a friend who bullies us is no longer a friend. And since bullies only respond to strength, from now onward I will be prepared to be much stronger. And the President should be prepared for that.
In return, it is time for China to show us just a little bit of love, actually.
Thom Woodroofe, 20, is the Young Victorian of the Year and founder of Left Right Think-Tank. He was recently recognised as one of Asia’s most influential young people. Email him on thomwoodroofe[at]gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @thomwoodroofe
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