Jeffrey Wasserstrom and Kate Merkel-Hess of UC Irvine compiled a reading list for their President would do before he heads to China for the Games. Among the suggestions:
5. “Rudd Rewrites the Rules of Engagement,” by Geremie Barmé. Aussie Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has a long history of engagement with China, studying there as a student and then serving in the Australian embassy in Beijing. His comfort with China has allowed him to guide Australia’s relationship with China in a new direction, a relationship ever more important to Australia as it shifts from thinking of itself as a “Western” nation to an “Asian” one. Though economic ties between the two countries are clearly important, cultural ones are ever more so, as Australia’s ethnically Chinese population grows. In this piece, historian Barmé analyzes the important speech Rudd gave–in Mandarin, no less–at China’s premier university, Beijing University, shortly after the Tibetan riots and the flap over the Olympic torch relay had engendered consternation with China from Paris to San Francisco. In a Chinese media environment that was, at that moment, increasingly intolerant of Western criticism of China, Rudd alluded to key fighters for freedom in the Chinese past and carefully chose his words to argue that he came to China as a zhengyou or a true friend, a word that in Chinese carries the connotation, as Barmé writes, of “the true friend who dares to disagree.” A simple linguistic turn, but Rudd’s sensitivity to China’s culture and literature was widely praised in the Chinese media. Barmé here explains why–and why it points to a new way of encouraging great openness in China.The approach Rudd outlined certainly offers a welcome break from the tendency Bush has shown to swing between demonizing some foreign leaders while treating others as the sorts of friends whose faults should be overlooked, due to how important their countries are to the U.S. in geopolitical terms or because, when face-to-face, he has claimed to get a glimpse of a “soul” that is as pure as, well, he once imagined Putin’s to be.
No crash course of online reading can hope to transform either the current–or even the next–occupant of the Oval Office into a Kevin Rudd with American characteristics, capable of speaking sensibly to Chinese leaders in their own tongue. Still, we have a more modest hope for the readings provided above, especially if supplemented by following breaking news as covered by the best correspondents in the field, such as the Wall Street Journal‘s Ian Johnson, NPR‘s Louisa Lim, and the Chicago Tribune‘s Evan Osnos, as well as the savviest bloggers, such as Hong Kong-based Rebecca MacKinnon. Some day, we hope, an American leader passing through Beijing will be able to rise to the level of eloquence and significance in English that Rudd recently rose to in Chinese.
It serves as a good reminder of Rudd’s potential in developing an engaging and nuanced foreign policy, especially with a major trading partner whose transgressions cannot be ignored in good conscience.