Sunday, 4 November 2012

THE FUTURE OF SINO-US RELATIONS - Address at the Closing Ceremony of the Beijing Forum 2012


Address at the Closing Ceremony of the Beijing Forum 2012

Peking University

4 November 2012


Thank you for your kind invitation to return to Beijing, my old home, to talk about the great challenges that confront all our countries in the future.

I have travelled here over the last 30 years as a diplomat, as a senior official in an Australian state government, as a businessman, as Prime Minister then Foreign Minister and a Member of Parliament, and always to visit friends and family, including my brand new Chinese-Australian granddaughter.

I also visit China every day as a subscriber to Chinese Weibo, where hundreds of thousands of ordinary Chinese share something of their lives with me, and I with them.

After all these years, I am more and more convinced that human beings are the same all over the world – with the same hopes and fears for their families and their futures.

I see my future role in doing what I can in whatever capacity to help carve out a peaceful and prosperous future for all of us in the Asian hemisphere to share.

War is the enemy of us all.

Poverty is the enemy of us all.

And I believe we in Asia are intelligent enough to avoid both.

But it will require hard thinking and hard work on the part of us all.


Recently, I read a biography of the 16th century Italian Jesuit, Matteo Ricci, and his various unsuccessful attempts to engage the Chinese imperial court.

I was reminded of how the history of China’s engagement with the West has often been one of mutual non-comprehension.

Matteo Ricci is probably regarded as the patron saint (albeit secular rather than divine) of those of us who claim to be sinologists.

A student of Chinese language, literature, philosophy, science and religion, Ricci was a formidable scholar.

He mastered the written and spoken language when there were no dictionaries or grammatical texts to rely on. So he wrote them.

He translated the four books of Confucianism into Latin; he wrote treatises on Chinese and classical Western concepts of friendship; treatises on the art of memory; treatises on 25 imagined discourses between Chinese Confucians and Greek Stoics; treatises on geometry, mathematics and astronomy; and just for good measure, to demonstrate that he was truly a son of the renaissance, he also wrote “Eight Songs for the Western Harpsichord Dedicated to the Son of Heaven”.

And if that was not sufficient for this 16th century polymath from the Society of Jesus, he was also a formidable cartographer and maker of clocks – which he routinely presented to local provincial and central officials of the Celestial Kingdom.

After nearly 20 years in China, and most of these achievements already behind him, Matteo Ricci memorialised the Imperial Court with the objective of seeking an audience with the Emperor Wan Li.

The Imperial Court’s response to Matteo Ricci was as follows:

“Li Madou (that is Ricci’s Chinese name) claims that he is from the far West, but there is no mention of any such place in the Ming Dynastic histories and it is therefore impossible to know whether he is telling the truth…

the gifts he offered to the Emperor are insignificant and of little value…

he should be given some lengths of silk, a hat and a belt in order to go back to his own country…

He should not be allowed to reside in Beijing or Nanjing because of the risk that he might cultivate good relations with the eunuchs of the Imperial Court and incite rebellion.”

Not an entirely encouraging response after 20 years of effort.

And of course if we look carefully at Matteo Ricci’s correspondence with his superior in Rome, with 400 years of hindsight we can also say that his reflections on the China of his time were not entirely objective either.

400 years later, while we may have made considerable progress in this great civilizational project of mutual comprehension, it pays for all of us to read Ricci’s history again to remind us how difficult the task remains today.

The theme for this 2012 Beijing Forum calls for, new thinking when faced with the challenges and opportunities of today’s new realities.

I believe we also need new thinking on how best to preserve the peace and prosperity of Asia for the 21st century.

So today I would like to talk about the principles of what I call a “Pax Pacifica” – based on classical Chinese concepts and western concepts of common security”

We are now faced with the modern phenomenon that China, this most ancient of civilizations, is now about to become once again the largest economy in our contemporary world, as well as one of the world, as well as one of the modern world’s great powers.

Suddenly scholars of classical China have become highly relevant to the modern world – not least because China’s political leaders, and in particular its public intellectuals, continue to draw extensively on Chinese classical tradition in shaping modern Chinese statecraft.

For example the recent study by Professor Yan Xuetong of China’s prestigious Tsinghua University entitled “Ancient Chinese Thought, Modern Chinese Power” is one of many cases in point.

Professor Yan at present is working on another study which seeks to construct an ethical foundation for modern Chinese foreign policy based on the cardinal virtues of classical Confucianism.

I make these points here at this distinguished Forum because how the West analyses China today, and how China analyses the West, is now critical to the central task of how we shape a common future with China in the critical decade ahead.

That’s why in my 2009 Morrison lecture, at the Australian National University, as Australian Prime Minister I called for “a New Sinology” – or “Hou Hanxue”.

The challenge of our future sinology should be to analyse China in all its integrated complexity, rather than in the self-contained silos of history, literature, philosophy, politics, economics, sociology, international relations and strategic studies.

Because the reality is that China is shaped by all of these dimensions rather than a clinically separate, self-contained Chinese statecraft.

And that is why in an earlier lecture at Peking University in 2008, I argued for a new concept of friendship in engaging with China.

Drawing from the Chinese classical tradition, I argued for a concept of “zhengyou” which means friendship – but a friendship based on deep mutual respect, genuine affection but equally a capacity to be candid with one’s friends when necessary.

That is why I have also argued in earlier speeches, including at the 2010 Caixin Summit in Beijing, against stereotypical responses to China to what I have described as “Neither Conflict nor Kowtow – a Third Way for Dealing with China”.

Of course, in all this discourse on Western Sinology there is a danger that this all becomes the sound of one hand clapping.

So equally, in the Chinese analysis of the West in all of our complexity, it is neither analytically valid nor politically useful to clinically divide us into camps of “fanhua” or “qinhua” – that is those who are “anti-China” and those who are “pro-China”.

This may have had some utility during the ideological rivalries of the Cold War and even the Cultural Revolution.

But as a term of analysis for China’s political, bureaucratic and academic elites to categorize Westerners today it is virtually meaningless.

Perhaps there is a debate already within the Beijing Forum on the need for a “New Occidentology” as China increasingly comprehends that given the cultural and democratic dynamics that characterize the collective West of the 21st Century, monolithic assumptions about “the West”, or even the United States, are even more useless than some of the West’s monolithic assumptions about contemporary China.


The Beijing Forum’s theme of “The Harmony of Civilizations” (wenming de hexie) is relevant to China’s foreign policy vision of “a harmonious world” (hexie shijie), which is in turn relevant to China’s domestic policy vision of a harmonious society (hexie shehui).

Harmony is a profound concept in Chinese philosophy.

It contains within it the concept of the balance of contending forces.

It contains within it the concept of finding the Golden Mean (Zhong Yong).

It contains within it the concept of the Great Unity (Da Tong).

It also contains within it classical Chinese virtues – virtues of benevolence (ren), righteousness (yi), protocol (li) and knowledge (zhi) and integrity (xin).

In China’s political tradition, philosophy matters. Ideas matter. Concepts matter.

Not just for reasons of historical continuity. But also for the practical reason that with a Communist Party of 86 million members, policy directions have to be explained in concepts which are also comprehensible within Chinese political elites.

The creative challenge lies in how such concepts (and the language associated with those concepts) is translated and interpolated into non-Chinese conceptual frameworks, which are in turn comprehensible to the West.

For example, for any international relations scholars present today, the so called paradigm debates within the international relations discipline in the West (realism, neo-realism, liberalism, neo-liberalism, idealism, structuralism, post-structuralism, communitarianism) are by and large alien to China’s domestic debate.

In fact Chinese international relations scholars readily concede that there is no clearly defined modern Chinese school of international relations theory.

While there are obvious commonalities (for example the ‘Art of War’ by Sun Zi on the one hand, and Machiavelli on the other) closer analysis also reveals deep differences between traditional Chinese and Western statecraft, including diplomacy.

On the question, however, of a “harmonious world”, China’s current foreign policy mantra, there is a clear conceptual overlap with the idea of a multilateral rules-based order.

Multilateralism seeks to harmonise conflicting positions. Multilateralism seeks to find a way up the middle.

Multilateralism is also potentially capable of incorporating values that may be universal in nature, but values which may go by different names in different cultures.

Therefore at a conceptual level, one practical recommendation I would make is that academic intuitions should embrace a common research project on producing a conceptual framework on a multilateral rules-based order for East Asia that draws on a range of philosophical traditions.

It would not constitute the abandonment of core principles already entrenched in the UN Charter.

Rather it would avoid the risk of these core principles simply being lost in cultural or even linguistic translation.

This project should involve think-tanks from China, the US, Australia and the rest of Asia and elsewhere in the world.

And here is where I believe useful work can be done in the academic sphere. For example, the Australian National University in Canberra has a newly established Australian Centre on China and the World which has been created through direct funding from the Australian government to give effect to the New Sinology I referred to in my 2009 Morrison Lecture.

Headed by Professor Richard Rigby and Professor Geremie Barme, I believe the centre could bring to bear an Australian scholastic tradition which sees China neither through European nor American eyes.

But rather through the perspectives and imperatives of engagement that Australia’s location in the Asian hemisphere dictates.


We are on the eve of two very different electoral processes which will take place respectively on 6 November in the United States and begin on 8 November in China.

At the conclusion of these processes, I argue that the US and Chinese Presidents need to start outlining a five-year US-China Strategic Roadmap.

This should embrace the need for a fixed number of regular summits every year; and agenda for global and regional cooperation where agreement can be reached; and key individuals on both sides who have the authority of their respective governments to negotiate with real authority.

This US-China Strategic Roadmap should also embrace the possible principles of such an order in an address to the Asia Society in New York as Australia’s Foreign Minister earlier this year, and again in late September at the Singapore Global Dialogue.

The latter, in particular, details a range of specific measures of how we can create a new Pax Pacifica which is neither a new Pax Americana by another name; nor a Pax Sinica.

A Pax Pacifica in would seek consciously the build the habits, customs and norms of security and strategic cooperation from the ground up.

Such a concept does not ignore the underlying strategic realities of the region – including the rise of China and continuing US military and diplomatic engagement in the region’s future.

Rather it accepts these realities. But it also seeks to create new thinking, new possibilities and in time new realities.

Remember in the darkest days of the Cold War, the Americans, the Soviets and the Europeans managed to conclude the Helsinki Accords.

They developed a Conference on Security Cooperation in Europe and they began to build basic confidence and security building measures to reduce the risk of unintended or accidental conflict.

The truth is, in Asia we have embraced very few confidence and security building measures of any description.

That is in part why our security policy environment is so brittle.

So what might the new Pax Pacifica look like?

To begin with, one area of concrete work that could be advanced is to be clear about some basic principles.

One, that China’s peaceful rise should be accommodated by the United States and by the rest of the region, and that China has entirely legitimate national security interests.

Two, to recognise that the US is a continuing part of the Asia Pacific region and that US alliances will continue.

Three, that the other member states of the region also have major equities in the region’s future, and hence an equitable voice in the region’s management.

Four, that all states should also consider collectively developing and accepting the basic norms of behaviour for a stable rules-based order consistent with the principles of the UN Charter.

Five, this should include the non-use of force in dispute resolution.

Six, region-wide dispute resolution mechanisms along the lines outlined in the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia and the ASEAN Code of Conduct.

Seven, for the East Asia Summit and the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting (+8) to advance a program of practical action to create a set of confidence building measures to enhance regional security cooperation, including joint exercises in search and rescue and counter disaster, counter-terrorism and counter-organised crime.

Such a concept of a Pax Pacifica is compatible with Chinese concepts of a harmonious world, Chinese concepts of the Golden Mean (Zhong Yong) and Chinese concepts of the Great Unity (Da Tong).

Such a concept is also compatible with Western concepts of effective multilateralism.

If we are able to agree with such a concept of Pax Pacifica which is neither exclusively American, nor exclusively Chinese, but instead a common concept for the Asian hemisphere overall, then we should advance our practical work to turn such a concept into reality.

The East Asia Summit is the best vehicle to do this because it gathers each year at summit level with all 18 East Asian powers as well as India, with an open agenda on political, economic and security matters.

We should use it to carve out a common regional vision for us all.

Otherwise, I fear the mindsets of our region (with all its competing nationalisms) may pull us apart.

So let us marry the Chinese concepts of harmony with Western concepts of multilateralism to truly build a harmonious region and a harmonious world together.


  1. Very tired reading and hard to follow with little resolve. Have stopped half way and will continue reading later in hope to find the resolve in legal population control. Humans are the only species with a built in instinct to progress and we have progressed to here where this can be quite easily addressed. Did all the ancient believers mention much on the humans instinct of progression? Does China fully understand where they are now and where OUR environment is and how we see them as equal to us from an earlier Australian Culture, now in threat??? Cheers Will

  2. Thank you once again for a stimulating, and educative address. Off to gather up reading material based on your references. Deep appreciation.

  3. Kevin Rudd will pull Australia to China. There will be no Australia any more. What a shame!