MALCOLM Turnbull may think he’s closed the door on Kevin Rudd’s UN aspirations but one expert believes America could keep the former PM’s hopes alive.
Writing in today’s Australian Financial Review, Dr Geoff Raby, a former ambassador to China under Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, has pointed to the possibility of Rudd gaining support from the US.
Dr Raby said Hillary Clinton could be Rudd’s saviour if the selection process for the next UN Secretary General is extended until after the US presidential election.
A decision on the UN position is due to be made in September but if the process is extended until November — a real possibility due to the large number of candidates this year and high levels of tension in Europe — Dr Raby believes Rudd could be in with a chance.
While not getting the backing of Australia’s government will have harmed his chances, Rudd could still be backed into the job by Clinton.
“The manner of the PM’s rejection of Rudd and declaring him unfit to serve has certainly harmed his chances of becoming the compromise candidate of choice,” Dr Raby noted.
“It will, however, have done nothing to weaken Clinton’s support for Rudd if she decides to spend political capital on his appointment. He ticks all the boxes for her, not least as someone who purportedly knows how to handle China.”
Dr Raby said Rudd had managed to repair his standing in Beijing following his time as prime minister, and while he’s still not much liked among officials, he is seen as someone China could work with because he does know China.
“China may be unenthusiastic, but Beijing would not block him (for the UN job),” Dr Raby said.
This is vital and leaves the door open for US to play kingmaker.
From a US perspective, Rudd’s knowledge of China would be attractive.
Rudd has established himself as one of the most incisive commentators on US-China relations, and Clinton would understand that dealing with China will be among one of her biggest challenges. It could even define her presidency.
It also helps that Rudd is already close to Clinton and has long been an admirer.
Russia may also get on board if Rudd has US backing.
“While Putin would not welcome Rudd in the job, it also provides an opportunity to begin to deal with the President-elect and some attractive concessions might be gained in return for not vetoing Rudd,” Dr Raby noted.
“Malcolm Turnbull must hope against the odds that either the UNSG selection process is resolved in September or that Trump triumphs.
“If both do not happen, when the PM makes his first telephone call to President-elect Clinton to congratulate her he needs to be well prepared for her to say, among many other important things, that ‘Kevin’s a great guy, the most knowledgeable person there is on China, and we would really welcome your help in having him appointed UNSG’.”
Last week Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the government would not back the former Labor prime minister for the UN job because he was not suited for the role.
The decision has been criticised as “petty politics”, while others described Rudd as a “known bully”.
Despite reports that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade had backed Rudd’s nomination, saying he was qualified, Treasurer Scott Morrison told 2GB this morning that the PM’s view on Rudd’s UN bid had not changed.
“The most important issue in Australia is not Kevin,” he said.
“The government is not focused on Kevin.”
But Mr Turnbull may still be at risk of an embarrassing backdown and could live to regret his decision. One thing is for sure, Rudd has already proved he won’t go quietly.