Shen Neng 1: Rudd's potentially damaging image problem

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd called the COSCO-owned Shen Neng 1's accident "outrageous". Lloyds List says the Australia’s Mandarin-speaking Prime Minister Kevin Rudd "has assiduously courted Cosco executives since his time as leader of the opposition. Many among their senior ranks are on his Christmas card list, and as a wily politician who prides himself on Chinese contracts, he makes a point of collecting their business cards and keeping in touch. " here

Others have noted charges that he is 'in Peking's pocket' a 'potentially damaging image problem.'

The opposition have criticised Rudd’s familiarity with Beijing for having had a negative affect on Sino-Australian relations. Liberal Party frontbencher Christopher Pyne recently told ABC radio that when Rudd spoke Mandarin at Peking University on his first visit to Beijing as prime minister, “he became far too familiar with a government that is essentially a very important partner, but still a totalitarian regime”. Such criticism may well be amplified with next year’s election in sight to ratchet up support from those fearful of China’s growing influence in Australia.

Accusations by the government that the opposition is fear-mongering by raising the China spectre will do little to lessen the impact of such criticism. Any appearance whatsoever that Rudd is in Beijing’s pocket, or even near to it, could make things awkward for Canberra. This is especially true given the controversy a few months back surrounding the Australian Defence Minister’s failure to declare two trips to China paid for by a Chinese businesswoman.

Already it is evident that Rudd has changed his tact towards Beijing in part probably to counter this potentially damaging image problem. Last year he talked with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao about how China ought to play a bigger role in sorting out the financial crisis. This year when Rudd was in London for the G20, he asked to be seated away from the Chinese ambassador to Britain – whom he knew well – on a BBC television show. It is clearly no longer a good look for Rudd to appear too close to China.

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