28 June 2013
By Rowan Callick
The return of Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister has stunned people around the world, with the response among international diplomacy experts ranging from comfort — he is a known factor — to concern, especially in China's case.
The London Daily Mail headlined its coverage: "Australian prime minister Gillard bounced out after being photographed knitting a toy kangaroo for Kate's baby."
The New Zealand Herald featured a cartoon of Rudd sitting in a cosy armchair knitting.
Asia-Pacific media have characteristically remained circumspect so far, covering the news largely through Western wire agencies.
An exception is Malaysia's Bernama agency, which highlighted that "Malaysian-born Penny Wong was elected unopposed as leader in the Senate, which makes her the third most powerful politician in Australia".
Hugh White, professor of strategic studies at the Australian National University, said: "In office as prime and foreign minister he was at best ineffective and frequently ham-fisted, doing real damage to Australia's key relationships.
"Since he's been on the backbench again he has again been out there articulating nuanced and sophisticated positions.
"Will this translate into a new and more effective foreign policy?
"Only if he is a very changed man. Certainly that is what they will be hoping for in Washington, Tokyo and Beijing, where memories of his time in office are not happy."
Mobo Gao, the director of the Confucius Institute at Adelaide University, said: "I don't think Beijing will ever trust Kevin Rudd unless something dramatic takes place.
"The Chinese do not forget easily. In contrast, Julia Gillard's last trip to China saw great progress in Australia's relationship with China, progress Rudd was probably not able to make."
Yuli Ismartoto, deputy chief editor of Tempo, Indonesia's most influential publication, said: "Although we shake our heads in wonder at the see-sawing of Australian politicking, we don't think there will be significant changes in bilateral relations, let alone policies."
Bates Gill, the chief executive of the US Studies Centre at Sydney University, said: "Kevin Rudd is well-known in the United States, especially in Washington, DC, and within the current American administration.
"The fact that he has been a continuing active presence in the United States while a backbencher — writing opeds and articles for prominent US newspapers and journals, making speaking appearances and the like — has meant he has kept his profile relatively high in American elite circles."
Shahriman Lockman, a Malaysian foreign policy analyst, said: "Kevin Rudd doesn't have the temperament for diplomacy with south east Asia, whereas Julia Gillard actually did.
"His temper and impatience is well known. Even Abdullah Badawi, who was his counterpart as prime minister, was not spared from Rudd's rudeness.
"In Malaysian foreign policy circles, as in many other south east Asian countries, Rudd is associated with the Asia-Pacific community proposal. He essentially ignored ASEAN when he made it."
This article was originally published at The Australian