China and foreign relations

Australia to get Mandarin speaking prime minister?

kevin_rudd.jpg
陆克文 , 你好!
This piece about Australian opposition leader Kevin Rudd is by Fergus Ryan

The recent APEC summit in Sydney had one success that the host, Australian Prime Minister John Howard, may not have foreseen. Opposition leader, Kevin Rudd (Labor Party), effectively gate-crashed the event and upstaged Howard by addressing Chinese President Hu Jintao in fluent Mandarin. As Howard grimly watched on, Rudd welcomed Hu to Australia and spoke of his time in Beijing as a diplomat in the 1980s and of his family's personal links to China and Chinese culture, to great diplomatic and popular effect.

The following day, Hu and Rudd sat down for a 30-minute discussion conducted entirely in Mandarin. Clearly impressed by Rudd's performance, Hu invited him and his family to the 2008 Beijing Olympics and commented "You speak perfect Chinese and you know China inside and out".

In fact, Rudd's Mandarin-speaking ability has come a long way since his early days as a diplomat in Beijing. In 1984, when translating then Ambassador Ross Garnaut's remarks to a Chinese delegation that "Australia and China were enjoying a great closeness in their relationship", Rudd is reported to have said "Australia and China are enjoying simultaneous orgasms in their relationship".

Since taking over the leadership of the Labor Party in December 2006, Rudd has consistently led in opinion polls. His standing has been further buoyed by his APEC performance, according to the Australian media, and in recent days has repeatedly challenged Howard to call the election. So far, Howard has held off any announcement, saying on Australian television on Monday night that parliament will continue to sit for the next two weeks, without mentioning an election date.

A fluent Mandarin-speaking Prime Minister may help to strengthen Australia's reputation in the region. In the past, Asian commentators have criticised Howard's remarks about Asian immigration, Australia's role in Southeast Asia as that of the US's "Deputy Sheriff", and openness to "pre-emptive strikes " on terrorist groups in neighbouring countries.

In the event of a Rudd Labor Party victory in the forthcoming, yet-to-be-announced election, at the very least Kevin Rudd has promised to reinstate the National Asian languages in Australian Schools Program, that was abolished by the Howard Government in 2002. It is anticipated that this will be just one element of a new Australian engagement with Asia, that will forge new and positive directions in international relations in the region.

Editors note:

The article above and the links below were contributed by a guest writer. Danwei is non partisan when it comes to the politics of most countries. But a Mandarin-speaking leader of a English-speaking country sounds like a good idea.

— Jeremy Goldkorn

Links and Sources
There are currently 7 Comments for Australia to get Mandarin speaking prime minister?.

Comments on Australia to get Mandarin speaking prime minister?

Yes his Mandarin is smooth and clear. The incumbent (Howard) does not even do English well. Notice, only the putonghua spieling opposition leader not the prime minister gets an olympic invite.

From what I've read about Rudd he is quite the kowtower, is all of Oz ready to bow and be engulfed in the sphere of coprosperity?

There will always be critics. We [Australia] are already a part of the Chinese co-prosperity sphere - China is our biggest trading partner. Having a PM who can speak Chinese is a strength not a weakness.

I met Mr Rudd a few times while working in Parliament. I didn't think he had a real chance to be PM (it was 2005, and he just started taking over the ALP).

Anyways, speaking of gaffes, in the Chinese speech he gave last week, he addressed Hu Jin Tao as 胡主席先生, using both Chairman (ZhuXi) and Mister (XianSheng) as titles.

As far as I know, this kind of combination does not exist in the Chinese language.

Only Marylin Monroe can get away with (Happy Birthday)"Mr. President".

What's wrong with "Mr. President"? You can hear this title being used on Mr. Bush in TV programs (such as C-Span) everyday. Neither do I think 胡主席先生 is problematic. In English, the equivalent should be Mr. Chairman, which is also often used in formal political committee hearings in the U.S.

On the other hand, whether Mr Rudd can win Australian peoples hearts by exercising his fluent Mandarin is a different matter.

There's certainly nothing wrong with "Mr. President," nor is "主席先生" all that uncommon, but "Mr. President Bush" sounds a bit peculiar, does it not? Same with "胡主席先生."

Well, I agree "胡主席先生" sounds a bit peculiar, but it can also be read as a bit creative and with some sense of humor, if you wish. And not like Mr Dror Poleg, the Chinese don't even mind.

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