Address to School of Foreign Service
Georgetown University, Qatar
15 November 2012
Thank you for the kind invitation to address the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service here in Qatar.
Georgetown in Washington is of course a fine Jesuit university which I have visited on many occasions over many years.
Its historical role in interpreting the world to America and, for that matter, interpreting America to the world is known to all.
Also Georgetown is well known here in the Middle East as a centre of excellence in understanding the foreign policy ebbs and flows of the region. This too is of intrinsic importance.
And it very much reflects the intellectual tradition of the Jesuits themselves in understanding the complexity of the world in which they have operated for the last 500 years.
In 1583 an Italian Jesuit by the name of Matteo Ricci sailed from Europe through the waters of the Arabian Sea for Goa and later to Macau and before becoming one of the first Europeans to settle permanently in the Middle Kingdom.
In China, during the late Ming Dynasty, he became known as “the wise man from the West”.
Ricci was a polymath in the finest of Jesuit traditions and over the next quarter of a century became the first Westerner to fully comprehend the complexity of the China of his time.
He wrote extensively, he translated voluminously and played a pivotal role in the complex task of making China comprehensible to a Western audience and making “the West” comprehensible to the Chinese leadership at the time.
It may be of passing interest here but during his long career in China, Ricci also initiated three way dialogues between Chinese Muslims, Chinese Confucians and the Chinese Catholic Church which he helped to establish. Truly a man for all seasons and all civilisations.
His was not an easy life. He encountered resistance both in Rome and Peking throughout his lifelong mission to draw these profound civilisations closer together.
Matteo Ricci, despite his Jesuit affiliation, is revered in china to this day and in 2010 his quadricentenary was commemorated and celebrated in the Chinese capital.
400 years later it is good to see this tradition of Jesuit learning alive and well across the world, including here in the midst of this great civilisation of the Arab world.
CHINA’S NEW LEADERSHIP
Today the Chinese Communist Party announced its new leadership which in all probability will see China through until 2022.
The 18th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party has elected a new Central Committee, a new Politburo, a new seven member Standing Committee of the Politburo and, most critically, a new General Secretary of the Party – Xi Jinping.
These events are as important to the world over the decade ahead as those political events which we all witnessed in the United States just one week ago with the re-election of President Obama.
I believe that the election of Xi Jinping and the re-election of President Obama provides a unique opportunity and foreign policy space for the US and China to carve out a new Strategic Roadmap for the decade ahead.
This is critical because the world at present is in transition and over the course of the decade China will emerge as the world’s largest economy – for the first time since King George III that a non-English speaking, non-Western, non-democracy will be the largest economy in the world.
Most of us have some idea of the internal political dynamics of the US Administration.
But the truth is we know much less about the internal dynamics of the Chinese political process – even for those of us who have been studying Chinese politics for the last 35 years.
The seven member Standing Committee of the Politburo will be a smaller body than that presided over by Hu Jintao.
For a Western audience, it is best to understand the Standing Committee as the equivalent of an Executive Cabinet – with allocated broad portfolio responsibilities, regular weekly meeting procedures and formal documentation associated with each decision.
This is where ultimate power resides within the Chinese political system.
Much has been written about Xi Jinping. It has been my privilege to spend time with Mr Xi and on different occasions with five of the other seven members of the newly announced Standing Committee.
Many people ask me what the leaders are like as both politicians and human beings.
My general response is that like the rest of us who have been associated with national political leadership during our careers, these are normal human beings confronted with the normal challenges of life, confronted with infinite expectations of what they can deliver and at the same time confronted with finite resources with which to meet those expectations.
In their case, however, they additionally confront the extraordinary challenge of negotiating the continued economic transformation of the most populous country on earth and doing so within the rigidities of a political system still dominated by a Leninist state.
On balance, my judgement is that this new Chinese leadership team is both sufficiently politically powerful and certainly technically competent to meet the formidable tasks which lie before it.
The new leadership team is on balance reformist in terms of the future direction of Chinese economic policy while remaining what I would describe as ‘small-c’ conservative on the possibilities of further political reform within the Chinese system.
On foreign policy, the leadership team will continue to want to undergird the economic transformation process in China by continuing regional and global strategic stability.
And that means managing a continuing strategic accommodation with the United States, most particularly in Asia.
The core challenge for the period ahead for both Washington and Beijing will be how precisely to do that.
The core challenge for the period ahead for both Washington and Beijing will be how precisely to do that.
And on this question I will discuss today some of the possibilities which present themselves at this time.
As for Xi Jinping I have said many times I believe Xi Jinping to be experienced, confident and self-assured and, because of his family’s political pedigree, comfortable with the mantle of political leadership.
He is the son of a former Politburo member Xi Zhongxun who’s political career mirrored that of Deng Xiaoping – with all the rises and falls from political favour that his generation endured under the increasingly erratic leadership of Mao Zedong.
Xi Zhongxun has a significant PLA background prior to 1949, and a significant role in the economic management and reform tasks that China faced post 1949 when Deng Xiaoping was either Vice Premier or Premier.
The point of all this is that I believe Xi Jinping is confident of both his military and economic reformist credentials, and this therefore places him in a good position to negotiate the complex internal shoals of high-level party politics.
In addition to this, Xi brings to the table vast experience of both municipal and provincial level administration across both China’s richer and poorer regions.
As for Xi’s views of the world, in his domestic roles he has had extensive engagement with foreign corporations given that his own administrative career has coincided with a period of China’s most intense program of domestic economic reform and global economic engagement.
Over the last five years since he was first elected to the Standing Committee, he has travelled extensively around the world (including Australia) and has spent extended periods of time in the United States as the guest of Vice-President Biden, and earlier as Biden’s host during the latter’s extensive tour of China.
I have long said that I believe Xi Jinping is a Chinese leader that the Americans can do business with – not just in shaping the long-term contours of Sino-US relations in a new, constructive strategic direction, but also in shaping the broad architecture of a new rules-based order for Asia.
And on top of this, a deeply significant development confirmed through this Party Congress is that Xi Jinping is being appointed immediately Chairman of the Central Military Commission.
I believe this to be an important indication of the strength of his political standing given the continuing central role of the Chinese Military in Chinese politics
He appointment now to take over the position represents a break in the convention 10 years ago when Hu Jintao had to wait another two years after his appointment as Party General Secretary to be appointed as Chairman of the Central Military Commission.
In the meantime, the previous party Secretary Jiang Zemin continued in the position as chair Central Military Commission.
Many expected that the precedent would be applied on this occasion – allowing a Hu Jintao to gradually exit from the political scene over time.
Xi Jinping’s power has been confirmed almost immediately.
The new Premier will be Li Keqiang. It was my privilege to spent time with Li as senior Vice-Premier when he visited Australia in recent years.
Li is widely known as an economic reformer and as Premier he will chair the State Council which will be responsible for the implementation of China’s continued economic reform program.
Next in the Standing Committee hierarchy is Zhang Dejiang. Zhang is regarded as a highly reliable political manager having recently been entrusted with the complex task of taking over the Chongqing Provincial Party Committee after the purge of Bo Xilai following the multiple scandals concerning himself, his wife and his family.
Zhang since 2008 has been one of China’s Vice-Premiers. Most critically between 2002 and 2007 was responsible for the administration of the Party committee in one of China’s most wealthy provinces Guangdong.
Number four in the new Hiracy is Yu Zhengsheng. Yu since 2007 has been Party Secretary in Shanghai, China’s traditional and continuing commercial capital.
Shanghai’s reputation is that it lies at the forefront of further economic reform, more expansive markets and a greater role for the private sector.
Yu will be joined by Liu Yunshan. Of the seven men on the Standing Committee, Liu is regarded as a more conservative political leader given his responsibility of heading the Propaganda Department.
In that capacity Liu will be responsible for the complex and politically sensitive task of managing state control of China’s media at a time of China’s unfolding social media revolution and an increasingly questioning official and semi-official media as well.
One of the most critical additions to the standing committee will be Wang Qishan. Wang Qishan has supported much of China’s work in the G20 as well as in the annual U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue.
He is well known and generally well liked by the Americans.
He has a formidable public career including being Mayor of Beijing from 2004 onwards and having been the successful Secretary of the Beijing organising committee for the 2008 Olympics.
Wang is a no nonsense reformer. He is very much influenced by his mentor – former Premier Zhu Rongji.
It was Zhu who pioneered Chinese accession to the WTO – A massively controversial decision at the time.
Finally, the Standing Committee will include Zhang Gaoli. Zhang is also known as a pro-market economic reformer.
He is currently Party Secretary of Tianjin which has seen total economic transformation in recent years as one of China’s major centres of global economic engagement.
There are no known obvious political tensions between this seven member team.
It bodes well for China’s ability to deliver strong leadership for the critical period ahead.
For countries like Australia, we have had considerable exposure to most of these leaders and I believe this also bodes well for the future of our bilateral relationship.
This is also leadership that Australia can genuinely do business with.
This particularly applies to Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang – both of whom have undertaken visits to our country over the last two years prior to their current elections.