The Blog

Kevin Rudd, aka Lu Kewen

12:35 PM, Dec 3, 2007 • By JENNIFER CHOU
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As Kevin Rudd and his new cabinet are being sworn into office today, Chinese media have given unprecedented coverage to the Australian Labor Party's victory in the November 24 elections, and to the newly designated prime minister in particular.

Names of Western leaders are typically transliterated into Chinese characters. For example, Bush is referred to in the Chinese press as bu-shi, Blair as bu-lai-er, Brown as bu-lang, and so on. All sound somewhat alien to the Chinese ear.

Kevin Rudd, on the other hand, is known as Lu Kewen, a quintessentially Chinese name that he adopted while studying Chinese language and history at the Australian National University. Rudd endeared himself to the Chinese even more when he mentioned, during a pre-election interview with China Central Television (CCTV) conducted almost entirely in Mandarin, that his three children are all students of the language and his son-in-law is a Chinese-born, naturalized Aussie.

The Chinese take great pride in the fact that the leader of a major Western country speaks their language and has expressed a keen interest in their culture. Rudd's interview with CCTV is characterized as a conversation that "demonstrated China's cultural soft power," while the "Lu Kewen phenomenon" is viewed as a reflection of "China's continuously ascending international clout."

The official Xinhua news agency found it "profoundly significant" that Australia's "history" finally caught up with its "geography," as its voters ousted John Howard, whose Asia policy was "bogged down in history," and embraced Rudd, the widely acclaimed "China expert" who turned his "Chinese-ness" into a "campaign trump card."

Guangming Daily, run by the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, attributed Rudd's victory to his "forward-looking new thinking."

The gushing enthusiasm, however, is mixed with a certain degree of caution. People's Daily ran on November 27 an opinion piece titled "Do not rush to label the China-expert prime minister ‘pro-China.'" The story, first published in China Youth Daily, states:

Being a "China expert" is not equivalent to being a "China lover." First and foremost, Lu Kewen is a citizen of Australia; secondly, he is the prime minister of Australia. In the eyes of Westerners, official duties and private affairs are strictly separated. Lu Kewen the "China expert" belongs in the personal realm. Being "prime minister" is Kevin Rudd's official duty. We expect him to improve his country's relations with China. But we cannot expect too much.

At an APEC lunch in Sydney this past September, then-opposition leader Rudd upstaged prime minister Howard by addressing Chinese president Hu Jintao in Mandarin. Howard, who had just inked a $45 billion gas deal with Hu, was left to listen to a translation of Rudd expressing his love for China and its culture.

The following day, Rudd and Hu held a 30-minute meeting conducted entirely in Mandarin. So impressed was Hu that he told Rudd: "You speak perfect Chinese and you know China inside out."

In his victory speech on November 24, Rudd referred to the United States as Australia's "great friend and ally." Australia's friends across Asia and the Pacific were characterized not as "allies," but instead as "partners." An indicator, perhaps, that Kevin Rudd, aka Lu Kewen, really does know China inside out.