Resources, not Tibet or torches, likely to dominate the 'Mandarin Auzzie's' Beijing agenda
Tomorrow marks a very interesting time politically for one of China's most important regional partners. Australian President Kevin Rudd will arrive here tomorrow to meet with his Chinese counterparts, the last leg of his first major international tour. And while the western media here is going to be focused on Rudd's thoughts on the torch relay and the situation in Tibet and the Chinese media is going to be focused on Rudd's support for the Olympics in China and his reiteration of support for the 'one-China policy,' one of the key challenges for the new Prime Minister, which is highly likely to go untalked about, is going to be the unsexy, but highly critical issue of Chinese investment in his country's resource sector.
I suspect that politically speaking, Mr. Rudd finds himself in a somewhat precarious situation when it comes to China right now thanks to natural resources. As most people are quite likely aware, Mr. Rudd - though new on the international political stage - is considered to be an old China hand. Given that he was a former diplomat here in China and speaks fluent Mandarin, there was quite a bit of buzz in China surrounding his election. As such, I suspect many people inside and out of government here in China are expecting Mr. Rudd to be somewhat pan-sympathetic to China's concerns on both a political and business front. And while he'll undoubtedly put on an impressive display in front of the cameras, say the right things and wow the Chinese media with his ability to take questions in Mandarin, behind the scenes is going to be a different story.
One must not forget that first and foremost, Mr. Rudd is an Australian politician that has to put both his country's interests, and his supporter's interests, ahead of what the Chinese government may be expecting of him. Though Mr. Rudd is considered somewhat on the right-side of the spectrum when it comes to his political leanings within his own party, Mr. Rudd was elected as the leader of a party which has strong union support within Australia, and is generally left-of-center. As such, if he wants to maintain his core support in Australia through his term in office, he's going to have to be cognizant of their concerns. And, undoubtedly, one of the issues concerning the union movement in Australia has to be China's recent moves toward acquiring more interests in Australian-based resource firms.The most recent example is Chinalco's February move to acquire a 9-percent stake in mining giant Rio Tinto. While 9-perecent might not seem like much, Chinalco has been making rumblings about acquiring more stake in the company. Perhaps this is why Australia's Resource Minister was quoted earlier this week as saying that his government had a responsibility "to maximize returns for Australia as a nation."
Everyone knows that China is sucking up energy and natural resources faster than an Auzzie can go through a jar of Vegemite. But if Beijing is expecting Mr. Rudd to open the flood gates when it comes to plucking his country's natural resources because he knows China, it may be in for a bit of a rude awakening.
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