- Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center Newsletter

Q&A: Kevin Rudd

Summer 2015

Former Prime Minister of Australia Kevin Rudd is a senior fellow with the Belfer Center and the Inaugural Director of the Asia Society Policy Institute. A longtime China scholar, Mr. Rudd headed a major project at the Belfer Center during the past year on alternative futures for U.S.-China relations over the next decade. In April, he released a report titled U.S.-China 21: The Future of U.S.-China Relations Under Xi Jinping. In this Q&A, we ask Mr. Rudd about his report and the future of U.S.-China relations.


In a recent TED Talk, you quoted Napoleon saying, “China is a sleeping lion, and when she wakes, the world will shake.” Is China wide awake today?

Napoleon was right about this. China has not just woken up, it has stood up and is on the march. The question for all of us is where will China go and how do we engage this giant of the 21st century?


You say in your new Belfer Center report that the future relationship between China and the United States represents one of the great mega-changes and mega-challenges of our time. Why is that?

China is already the largest trading nation, the largest exporting nation, and the largest manufacturing nation, and it’s also the biggest emitter of carbon in the world. If China’s economy surpasses that of the U.S. in the next decade—as it is likely to do—it will be the first time since the mid-1800s that a non-English speaking, non-Western, non-liberal democratic country will once again hold this position. This will reflect a shift in the center of global geo-economic gravity and in political power as well—and will affect the way the world develops in the future.


How optimistic are you that China and the U.S. will avoid the “Thucydides Trap” that can lead to conflict?

If you take a passive view and do nothing, or if you take a deeply pessimist, realist, almost Hobbesian view of human nature, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. However, if you temper that skepticism with what I call constructive realism and do work together that is useful to each side and reflects the values of each side, you start to build strategic trust, step by step. That gives you enough political capital long-term to solve some of the really hard stuff in the relationship.


What steps should Presidents Obama and Xi take in the next year?

The relationship between the U.S. and China is so vast, complex, and challenged at all levels that they need a common strategic narrative between the two of them, rather than just a privately held narrative in their minds about each other. The narrative needs to be realistic about where they disagree and constructive about where they can agree, and they need to work together to form a functioning regional and global order for the future against the huge challenges we now face. My report lays out a script of what a common strategic narrative might be and explains how some policy platforms within that narrative can be relevant. Recognizing the major differences in Chinese and American values and interests, what would a collaborative relationship look like? The question is the degree to which their values and interests do coincide. For example, if you have the U.S., China, and India rowing essentially the same way on climate change, then you save the planet.


What has surprised you most in your research?

I have been surprised to discover how deeply entrenched the stereotypes are on the part of Chinese policy elites toward America and American policy elites toward China.


Why did you choose to come to the Belfer Center to do research for this major study?

The Belfer Center’s vitality lies in the fact that it’s pulling the ideas from the academy into the practice of day-to-day foreign policy and security policy decision-making. So I was very pleased when Graham Allison invited me to the Center to undertake this study. It is a welcoming environment.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Q&A: Kevin Rudd.” Belfer Center Newsletter (Summer 2015).