Kevin Rudd’s plan for how America can avoid a war with China

These might include cyberattacks on specified critical infrastructure, conduct in the South China Sea, treatment of Taiwan, or military deployments. These “red lines” would be set out in secret.

In all other areas, “we accept the reality of full-blown competition” between China and the US, Mr Rudd said in an interview.

The US and Chinese presidents need to create structures similiar to those put in place with the Soviet Union after the Cuban missile crisis, Mr Rudd says.

The US and Chinese presidents need to create structures similiar to those put in place with the Soviet Union after the Cuban missile crisis, Mr Rudd says.Credit:AP

There also could be areas of cooperation such as climate change or global pandemics. “People forget that during the Cold War the Soviets and the Americans cooperated to eliminate smallpox.“

He acknowledged that, while this attempt to set up “strategic guardrails” would not prevent war, it could reduce the risk of war: “I challenge critics to provide an alternative”.

He was not offering himself as a mediator, he said: “Middlemen are not required – this only works between the two principals themselves.”

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Mr Rudd said that the angry style of muscular diplomacy named after the hyper-nationalistic Chinese movie Wolf Warrior “came too early, if you like”.

China had made “phenomenal progress from 2016 to 2020 courtesy of Donald Trump – the US as the stabilising fulcrum in the international order started to wobble. China didn’t believe their luck. The diminution of US standing was unprecedented.”

But Mr Xi overstepped the mark: “China was not simply attacking Australia but also countries around the world. There’s a reappraisal as to whether this was wise.”

It generated pushback from Europe, Japan, India, Australia and the US, among others.

“China’s foreign policy strategy in normal times is not to fight on multiple fronts at once. They are tactically de-escalating tension with as many Chinese partners as possible. It doesn’t pay to have enemies on all sides. But this is a tactical shift, not strategic,” Mr Rudd said.

“The strategic direction of China remains the same. First, to continue to accumulate comprehensive national power – economic power, military power, technological power.

“Second, to make other countries progressively more dependent on the Chinese market and at the time that its balance of power over the US is overwhelming, to begin exerting more power over the region and the world order.”

The Avoidable War will be published by Hachette Australia on March 30. The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age will publish an extract next Saturday.

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