APEC: Kevin Rudd floors Hu Jintao

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 9/06/2007 01:05:00 PM
Sorry to keep harping on the APEC Summit, but I just had to post this article. Kevin Rudd, Labor's candidate for PM and the man who is likely to succeed current Australian PM John Howard, is also a fluent Mandarin speaker. He put one over ol' John Howard today as he addressed Hu Jintao in his mother tongue for minutes. Comrade Hu and his entourage were amazed by this gweilo (foreign devil) showcasing his language skills. Hu had better et used to it for the polls suggest Howard will be trounced at the next general election. Yup, we're more likely to see this sort of thing in the future: APEC leaders who are not from native Mandarin-speaking countries learning how to speak the language in deference to China's growing economic clout. Score one for Chinese "soft power." From the Sydney Morning Herald:

Labor's Mandarin-speaking leader Kevin Rudd upstaged John Howard today in a stunning piece of linguistic one-upmanship at a state lunch for China's President Hu Jintao.

The Prime Minister's own speech went down well.

But when Mr Rudd started addressing the leader of one-quarter of the world's population - fluently in his own tongue - the effect was stunning.

There was an almost audible intake of breath among the scores of Chinese political and business heavyweights in the audience.

Many sat bolt upright in their chairs, beaming at Mr Rudd's virtuosity.

The effect could not have been greater had the family's precocious nine-year-old played a Chopin prelude perfectly for the visiting relatives after Christmas lunch.

But it worked so well because Mr Rudd was not acting like a show-off.

He spoke at length in English first, displaying a commanding grasp of China's history and development into an economic giant, before seeking his audience's indulgence to welcome Mr Hu personally in Chinese.

And when he did, he must have made Mr Howard squirm in his seat.

He spoke not for a few lines but for a few minutes.

It was, quite simply, a moment made to measure for the former diplomat.

Not only is he consistently trouncing Mr Howard in the polls, but here he was looking like a genuine statesman at an APEC forum which Mr Howard, as host, is no doubt expecting will enhance his own international reputation.

His audience included two former Labor prime ministers - Gough Whitlam, who recognised China in the 1970s when it was not politically popular to do so, and Bob Hawke, who got the APEC ball rolling in 1989.

It also included China's foreign and commerce ministers, Hong Kong's chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, business heavyweights such as BHP's Chip Goodyear and Woodside Petroluem's Don Voelte, Defence Force chief Angus Houston and, with 11 months left until the Beijing Olympics, Australian IOC member Kevan Gosper.

Mr Rudd could not have scripted a bigger occasion on which to shine.

He also managed to trump Mr Howard on the issue of China's "panda diplomacy".

"It was once ping pong; now pandas are making a contribution to our relationship," Mr Howard said to warm applause after Mr Hu announced two pandas would be sent to Adelaide Zoo.

"That has nothing to do with the fact that my foreign minister comes from South Australia."

Mr Howard might have been better omitting any mention of Alexander Downer, because earlier he had made a humorous quip about panda mating habits which might not translate all that well in Beijing.

After a news conference where an expert mentioned that pandas mated only three or four times a year, Mr Downer told Australian reporters: "I'm glad I wasn't born a panda. Suck on that."

Mr Rudd said in his speech: "Should my party succeed at the next election, we would also welcome pandas coming to my home city of Brisbane."

UPDATE: After making his speech in Mandarin, Kevin Rudd had the opportunity to sit and talk with Hu Jintao. To no one's surprise, he did away with an interpreter and spoke with Comrade Hu in Mandarin. Current Aussie Foreign Minister Alexander Downer then accused Rudd of showing off by speaking to Hu in his mother tongue. Downer retorts that he speaks fluent French. (Good luck impressing the Chinese with your French, Downer):

The Labor leader, Kevin Rudd, drew on his fluency in Mandarin and his past as a diplomat in Beijing to launch his charm offensive in a meeting with the President of China, Hu Jintao, in Sydney yesterday.

Mr Rudd and Mr Hu conducted the 30-minute meeting in Mandarin, avoiding the need for interpreters, which can introduce a stop-start tenor to international meetings.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer, was unimpressed. He accused the Opposition Leader of being a show-off and pointed out that he too was a former diplomat with a foreign language - French.

Mr Rudd told reporters he had started by making light-hearted conversation with Mr Hu in Mandarin and then the two men had continued their dialogue in that language.

"When I've been to Beijing before, sometimes conversations are in Chinese, sometimes in English," he said.

"President Hu seemed quite desirous in continuing the conversation in Chinese and I was pretty relaxed about that. It's a matter of the way in which the Chinese wish to conduct these conversations so, yes, we conducted our conversation in Chinese."

The meeting covered the economic relationship between Australia and China, including Beijing's interest in longer-term co-operation on energy supply and Labor's interest in creating more opportunities for Australian banks and financial service companies to operate in China.

"I was also able to reflect with the President that, when he came here for the first time in the 1980s, he was working then in the Chinese Communist Youth League and part of my job at the embassy in Beijing in 1986 was to prepare for his visit to Australia then, and I vaguely remember working on the details of that particular visit."

Asked on ABC radio whether the Government had been upstaged by the Labor leader in its dealings with the visiting Chinese President, Mr Downer said: "Well, remember I'm the Foreign Minister so I work every day with people who can speak foreign languages and I can speak French."

Presenter: "Do you?"

Mr Downer: "I speak French. That's not seen in diplomacy as a great party trick - to be able to speak a foreign language."

Mr Downer and the ABC presenter Jon Faine then conversed on-air in French before the Foreign Minister resumed in English.

"I mean I don't think in diplomacy the fact that you can speak foreign languages is anything special, and obviously he runs the risk of being seen by a lot of Australians as a show-off."