Kevin Rudd: “I Don’t Think Either China Or The US Wants War"

Kevin Rudd was continuing his national book tour when a nasty headline made the leadership struggles of nearly a decade ago seem like very old news.

One of the America’s top generals -- recently retired -- was warning the dangers of war between China and the US are real. And closer than people think.

There is “a very strong likelihood,” said Lt. Gen Ben Hodges, “we will be at war with China (within) 15 years.”

Kevin Rudd, the current president of the New York-based Asia Society Policy Institute, remains an influential observer of China.

Rudd remains an influential observer of China. IMAGE: AAP

“I don’t think either China or the US wants war,” he told me. But the probability is rising.

China has laid claim to numerous artificial islands in the South and East China Sea. Despite promising purely peaceful motives, it has militarised many of those islands and is determined to defend them.

Last month, the American destroyer, USS Decatur, was forced to take evasive action when challenged by a Chinese warship that closed to within 40 metres. Kevin Rudd says there is a “law of probability” that over time an accident will spark a crisis.

The guided-missile destroyer USS Decatur. IMAGE: Getty Images

“There’s too much metal rolling around on the sea, under the sea or in the air,” says Rudd.

He believes on China’s current military capabilities, it would probably lose even a limited conflict with the United States. But history shows crises tend to escalate beyond anyone’s control.

“When nationalism comes into play, rational political judgement sometimes goes out the back door,” says Rudd. “That’s the problem we now face.”

Ominously, he adds, “At the beginning of 1914, no-one through war was possible and by August 1914 the guns had already opened fire.”

Rudd says the “ballast” that previously helped stabilise the relationship between Beijing and Washington has weakened in an age of trade wars and an “unpredictable” US President.

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Responding to Kevin Rudd’s comments, Prime Minister Scott Morrison says “Australia’s actions are always to de-escalate tensions rather than escalate them.”

The Coalition government has committed tens of billions of dollars to restoring the Australian defence budget to 2% of GDP. In the late stages of the Gillard government, defence funding suffered in the pursuit of a return to surplus.

Rudd believes Julia Gillard and her team were “naïve” about the dangers posed by China.

Featured image: Getty Images

Contact the author hriminton@networkten.com.au