New PM Kevin Rudd, Asia's Binding Link?
Byline: Agence France-Press
SYDNEY - As the first Western leader able to speak to the Chinese in their own language, Australia's new prime minister could play a vital role as a central link to the growing Asian powerhouse, analysts say.
Labor Party leader Kevin Rudd, who ousted long-serving conservative prime minister John Howard in elections Saturday, specialized in Asian studies and served as a diplomat in Beijing before launching a political career.
While Howard felt most at home with Western nations and was a staunch ally of US President George W. Bush, Rudd is likely to introduce a new era in relations with Australia's neighbours in Asia, said analyst John Hart.
"Howard was an old world prime minister in a new world country. He had a sort of 1950s attitude to Asia which never really left him. Rudd will be more positive and forward looking," Hart told AFP.
Rudd's ability to speak fluent Mandarin, which charmed and impressed Chinese President Hu Jintao during a visit to Sydney in September, was particularly significant, the Australia National University analyst said.
"Rudd is the first Western democratic leader who can speak to the Chinese in their own language. Any Western leader will tell you the Chinese are notoriously difficult to deal with and I think language could make a difference."
If the United States was "willing to exploit and take advantage of this unique skill Rudd has it could be a boon not only for the US but for the rest of the Western bloc," he said.
"China's role in world affairs is changing. It is not only the economic growth that is spectacular, but it is taking a more constructive role on the world stage."
It might seem a big call to see a language skill as so important in world affairs, but Chinese people both at home and abroad who have heard Rudd speak are particularly impressed by his fluency in the difficult tongue. …