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  • G'day, my name's Kevin.

  • I'm from Australia. I'm here to help.

  • (Laughter)

  • Tonight, I want to talk about a tale of two cities.

  • One of those cities is called Washington, and the other is called Beijing.

  • Because how these two capitals shape their future

  • and the future of the United States and the future of China

  • doesn't just affect those two countries,

  • it affects all of us

  • in ways, perhaps, we've never thought of:

  • the air we breathe, the water we drink,

  • the fish we eat, the quality of our oceans,

  • the languages we speak in the future,

  • the jobs we have, the political systems we choose,

  • and, of course, the great questions of war and peace.

  • You see that bloke? He's French.

  • His name is Napoleon.

  • A couple of hundred years ago,

  • he made this extraordinary projection:

  • "China is a sleeping lion, and when she awakes,

  • the world will shake."

  • Napoleon got a few things wrong;

  • he got this one absolutely right.

  • Because China is today not just woken up,

  • China has stood up and China is on the march,

  • and the question for us all

  • is where will China go

  • and how do we engage this giant of the 21st century?

  • You start looking at the numbers, they start to confront you in a big way.

  • It's projected that China will become,

  • by whichever measure -- PPP, market exchange rates --

  • the largest economy in the world

  • over the course of the decade ahead.

  • They're already the largest trading nation,

  • already the largest exporting nation,

  • already the largest manufacturing nation,

  • and they're also the biggest emitters of carbon in the world.

  • America comes second.

  • So if China does become the world's largest economy,

  • think about this:

  • It'll be the first time

  • since this guy was on the throne of England --

  • George III, not a good friend of Napoleon's --

  • that in the world we will have as the largest economy

  • a non-English speaking country,

  • a non-Western country,

  • a non-liberal democratic country.

  • And if you don't think that's going to affect

  • the way in which the world happens in the future,

  • then personally, I think you've been smoking something,

  • and it doesn't mean you're from Colorado.

  • So in short, the question we have tonight is,

  • how do we understand this mega-change,

  • which I believe to be the biggest change for the first half of the 21st century?

  • It'll affect so many things.

  • It will go to the absolute core.

  • It's happening quietly. It's happening persistently.

  • It's happening in some senses under the radar,

  • as we are all preoccupied with

  • what's going in Ukraine, what's going on in the Middle East,

  • what's going on with ISIS, what's going on with ISIL,

  • what's happening with the future of our economies.

  • This is a slow and quiet revolution.

  • And with a mega-change comes also a mega-challenge,

  • and the mega-challenge is this:

  • Can these two great countries,

  • China and the United States --

  • China,

  • the Middle Kingdom,

  • and the United States,

  • iguó --

  • which in Chinese, by the way, means "the beautiful country."

  • Think about that -- that's the name that China has given this country

  • for more than a hundred years.

  • Whether these two great civilizations, these two great countries,

  • can in fact carve out a common future

  • for themselves and for the world?

  • In short, can we carve out a future

  • which is peaceful and mutually prosperous,

  • or are we looking at a great challenge

  • of war or peace?

  • And I have 15 minutes to work through war or peace,

  • which is a little less time

  • than they gave this guy to write a book called "War and Peace."

  • People ask me, why is it that a kid growing up in rural Australia

  • got interested in learning Chinese?

  • Well, there are two reasons for that.

  • Here's the first of them.

  • That's Betsy the cow.

  • Now, Betsy the cow was one of a herd of dairy cattle

  • that I grew up with on a farm in rural Australia.

  • See those hands there? These are not built for farming.

  • So very early on, I discovered that in fact, working in a farm

  • was not designed for me, and China was a very safe remove

  • from any career in Australian farm life.

  • Here's the second reason.

  • That's my mom.

  • Anyone here ever listen to what their mom told them to do?

  • Everyone ever do what their mom told them to do?

  • I rarely did,

  • but what my mom said to me was,

  • one day, she handed me a newspaper,

  • a headline which said, here we have a huge change.

  • And that change is China entering the United Nations.

  • 1971, I had just turned 14 years of age,

  • and she handed me this headline.

  • And she said, "Understand this, learn this,

  • because it's going to affect your future."

  • So being a very good student of history,

  • I decided that the best thing for me to do was, in fact,

  • to go off and learn Chinese.

  • The great thing about learning Chinese

  • is that your Chinese teacher gives you a new name.

  • And so they gave me this name:

  • Kè, which means to overcome or to conquer,

  • and Wén, and that's the character for literature or the arts.

  • Kè Wén, Conqueror of the Classics.

  • Any of you guys called "Kevin"?

  • It's a major lift from being called Kevin to be called Conqueror of the Classics.

  • (Laughter)

  • I've been called Kevin all my life.

  • Have you been called Kevin all your life?

  • Would you prefer to be called Conqueror of the Classics?

  • And so I went off after that and joined the Australian Foreign Service,

  • but here is where pride -- before pride, there always comes a fall.

  • So there I am in the embassy in Beijing,

  • off to the Great Hall of the People

  • with our ambassador, who had asked me to interpret for his first meeting

  • in the Great Hall of the People.

  • And so there was I.

  • If you've been to a Chinese meeting, it's a giant horseshoe.

  • At the head of the horsehoe are the really serious pooh-bahs,

  • and down the end of the horseshoe are the not-so-serious pooh-bahs,

  • the junior woodchucks like me.

  • And so the ambassador began with this inelegant phrase.

  • He said, "China and Australia are currently enjoying a relationship

  • of unprecedented closeness."

  • And I thought to myself,

  • "That sounds clumsy. That sounds odd.

  • I will improve it."

  • Note to file: Never do that.

  • It needed to be a little more elegant, a little more classical,

  • so I rendered it as follows.

  • [In Chinese]

  • There was a big pause on the other side of the room.

  • You could see the giant pooh-bahs at the head of the horseshoe,

  • the blood visibly draining from their faces,

  • and the junior woodchucks at the other end of the horseshoe

  • engaged in peals of unrestrained laughter.

  • Because when I rendered his sentence,

  • "Australia and China are enjoying a relationship

  • of unprecedented closeness,"

  • in fact, what I said was that Australia and China

  • were now experiencing fantastic orgasm.

  • (Laughter)

  • That was the last time I was asked to interpret.

  • But in that little story, there's a wisdom, which is,

  • as soon as you think you know something about this extraordinary civilization

  • of 5,000 years of continuing history,

  • there's always something new to learn.

  • History is against us

  • when it comes to the U.S. and China

  • forging a common future together.

  • This guy up here?

  • He's not Chinese and he's not American.

  • He's Greek. His name's Thucydides.

  • He wrote the history of the Peloponnesian Wars.

  • And he made this extraordinary observation

  • about Athens and Sparta.

  • "It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this inspired in Sparta

  • that made war inevitable."

  • And hence, a whole literature about something called the Thucydides Trap.

  • This guy here? He's not American and he's not Greek. He's Chinese.

  • His name is Sun Tzu. He wrote "The Art of War,"

  • and if you see his statement underneath, it's along these lines:

  • "Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected."

  • Not looking good so far for China and the United States.

  • This guy is an American. His name's Graham Allison.

  • In fact, he's a teacher at the Kennedy School

  • over there in Boston.

  • He's working on a single project at the moment, which is,

  • does the Thucydides Trap about the inevitably of war

  • between rising powers and established great powers

  • apply to the future of China-U.S. relations?

  • It's a core question.

  • And what Graham has done is explore 15 cases in history

  • since the 1500s

  • to establish what the precedents are.

  • And in 11 out of 15 of them,

  • let me tell you,

  • they've ended in catastrophic war.

  • You may say, "But Kevin --

  • or Conqueror of the Classics --

  • that was the past.

  • We live now in a world of interdependence and globalization.

  • It could never happen again."

  • Guess what?

  • The economic historians tell us that in fact,

  • the time which we reached the greatest point

  • of economic integration and globalization

  • was in 1914,

  • just before that happened, World War I,

  • a sobering reflection from history.

  • So if we are engaged in this great question

  • of how China thinks, feels,

  • and positions itself towards the United States,

  • and the reverse,

  • how do we get to the baseline

  • of how these two countries and civilizations

  • can possibly work together?

  • Let me first go to, in fact,

  • China's views of the U.S. and the rest of the West.

  • Number one: China feels as if it's been humiliated

  • at the hands of the West through a hundred years of history,

  • beginning with the Opium Wars.

  • When after that, the Western powers carved China up into little pieces,

  • so that by the time it got to the '20s and '30s,

  • signs like this one appeared on the streets of Shanghai.

  • ["No dogs and Chinese allowed"]

  • How would you feel if you were Chinese,

  • in your own country, if you saw that sign appear?

  • China also believes and feels

  • as if, in the events of 1919, at the Peace Conference in Paris,

  • when Germany's colonies were given back

  • to all sorts of countries around in the world,

  • what about German colonies in China?

  • They were, in fact, given to Japan.

  • When Japan then invaded China in the 1930s

  • the world looked away and was indifferent to what would happen to China.

  • And then, on top of that, the Chinese to this day believe

  • that the United States and the West

  • do not accept the legitimacy of their political system

  • because it's so radically different from those of us who come

  • from liberal democracies,

  • and believe that the United States to this day is seeking

  • to undermine their political system.

  • China also believes that it is being contained

  • by U.S. allies and by those with strategic partnerships with the U.S.

  • right around its periphery.

  • And beyond all that, the Chinese have this feeling

  • in their heart of hearts and in their gut of guts

  • that those of us in the collective West

  • are just too damned arrogant.

  • That is, we don't recognize the problems in our own system,

  • in our politics and our economics,

  • and are very quick to point the finger elsewhere,

  • and believe that, in fact, we in the collective West

  • are guilty of a great bunch of hypocrisy.

  • Of course, in international relations,

  • it's not just the sound of one hand