Kevin Rudd calls for ‘Big Australia’ to deal with a rising China

He said Mr Wang should be granted a protection visa in Australia if “there is a bona fide basis for political asylum”.


Mr Rudd hit out at the Coalition government for its handling of the Australia-China relationship, saying the 99-year lease of the Port of Darwin to Chinese-owned Landbridge Group and cuts to foreign aid had damaged the country’s standing in the Asia-Pacific region.

Echoing his politically sensitive call from when he was prime minister for a “big Australia”, Mr Rudd said the nation faced the prospect of having to stand on its own by the middle of the century “with or without the support of a major external partner” such as the US.

Australia’s security and defence experts are increasingly concerned about how to handle China’s rise in a period when US President Donald Trump is pursuing an “America First” policy.

Mr Rudd, who was also foreign minister in the Gillard government from 2010 to 2012, said major US allies including Japan and South Korea were starting to hedge towards China as the US was withdrawing from the region.


Speaking in Canberra on Tuesday at the launch of Herald political editor Peter Hartcher’s Quarterly Essay, Red Flag: Waking Up to China’s Challenge, Mr Rudd said American allies were beginning what could only be seen as the “great China hedge”.

“Australia must plan for a big Australia, a big and sustainable Australia of the type I’ve advocated while I was in office,” Mr Rudd said. “That means of course comprehensive action on climate change and broader environmental sustainability, but it also means a big and bold approach to continued immigration.

“Only a country, in my judgment, with a population of 50 million later this century would begin to have the capacity to fund, independently, the defence and intelligence assets necessary to defend our territorial integrity and maintain our political sovereignty for the long term.”

Mr Rudd also called for the government to develop and regularly update a “classified cabinet-level national China strategy” that was “brutally pragmatic” about Beijing’s objectives in relation to Australia.

He claimed the Abbott and Turnbull governments initially capitulated to China in a number of areas including on human rights concerns and the Port Darwin lease: “The Americans were horrified [about the Darwin port decision]; the Chinese couldn’t believe their luck.”

Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull then radically changed course in late 2017 to “consolidate his political position against the far right of his own political party”, according to Mr Rudd.

The Coalition’s cuts to foreign aid in the South Pacific “opened the door” to China to enter the region, while its lack of action on climate change had also damaged its standing.

Mr Rudd said Australia should join the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), but warned there would be some resistance. He also said universities should have more of a “seamless relationship” with Australia’s intelligence agencies to combat foreign interference.

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