Mar 29, 2022 - World

Former Australian PM Kevin Rudd on U.S.-China "managed competition"

Photo illustration of Kevin Rudd.
Photo illustration: Axios Visuals. Photo: Michael Masters/Getty Images

The U.S. and China are at high risk of military conflict because they haven't established guardrails for how to responsibly conduct strategic competition, former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd told Axios in an interview.

Why it matters: The two sides must create a “deeply realist” understanding of the minimal rules of the road "simply to avoid blowing each other’s brains out by accident," Rudd said.

Driving the news: Rudd just published a book called "The Avoidable War: The Dangers of a Catastrophic Conflict Between the US and Xi Jinping's China."

  • The "death of mutual trust" between the U.S. and China has greatly increased the risk of miscalculation and escalation to armed conflict, Rudd writes.

To avoid catastrophe, the U.S. and China should "consider something akin to the procedures and mechanisms that the United States and the Soviet Union put in place to govern their relations after the Cuban Missile Crisis," he writes.

  • On Taiwan, for example, Rudd said U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan and his Chinese counterpart should discuss how each country would react in the case of a Chinese naval blockade, a cyberattack or a decision to occupy one of Taiwan's smaller outlying islands.
  • By laying out each country's moves and countermoves, the U.S. and China would create a degree of mutual deterrence, thus establishing rules of the road.

What to watch: As they engage in a deepening global rivalry, the U.S. and China must also work together to accomplish two tasks, Rudd told Axios.

  • The two countries must "create space for non-lethal competition" in the realms of ideology, foreign influence and trade.
  • They must also create areas of strategic cooperation, such as in climate management and global financial stability.

The bottom line: A minimum set of mutually recognized red lines would dramatically reduce risk of conflict, he says.

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