This will not be the end of Kevin Rudd’s starring role in the WikiLeaks Canberra cables.

While it is being widely reported this morning that WikiLeaks has drawn blood against Canberra by publishing a single cable that contains details of Kevin Rudd’s “brutal” posturing on China, the reality is that nearly his entire time as Prime Minister is covered by the cables. Considering the energy Kevin747 devotes to foreign affairs — it many ways it defines him on a professional level — and the conversational style of all the cables released so far, it is highly likely a long, drawn-out, one-sided portrait of the man will be teased out as 1400 documents are drip fed to the Australian public over the next few months.

So do these revelations have the potential to make his position as foreign minister untenable?

With spikes in cable traffic during major international events such as the Copenhagen Climate Conference, as reported in Crikey last week, and hundreds of cables covering 2007-2009, foreign leaders meeting with the foreign minister will be asking themselves, “You can say that Kevin, but tell us what you really mean?”

Rudd allegedly told Hillary Clinton he was a “brutal realist on China”, that in our region “China could succeed only if the United States ceded the field” and we should be “integrating China effectively into the international community and allowing it to demonstrate greater responsibility, all while also being prepared to deploy force if everything goes wrong”.

By contrast, current Prime Minister Julia Gillard is safe. The run of leaked cables ends in February 2010, while she was still deputy Prime Minister with a strong domestic focus. The Liberal government members you would expect to be affected by the pre-2007 cables, Alexander Downer and John Howard, are no longer on the scene.

It’s important to note that the leaked cable contains only unverified US impressions of what Kevin Rudd said. The document contains few direct quotes from the former Prime Minister but several large slabs of material paraphrased by the Americans. The Australian government’s policy is not to comment on the cables, however this position may shift quickly if corrections to the public record are required.

It is not just China that will be wary of Rudd. If there is a Chinese equivalent of the US cable, a “compare and contrast” could throw up a contradictory position on the diplomatic fissure that is Taiwan.

Australia has long been known as trying to disengage itself from immediate military support for the US in the event of a Chinese attack on Taiwan. This kind of double positioning is exactly why world leaders prefer their conversations to remain private.

While Australian diplomats will undoubtedly be working overtime to defuse the issue, last night’s cable, with its declaration that Australia would use force “if everything goes wrong”, has highlighted at least one question of public importance that should be answered: exactly what would Australia do if China used non-peaceful means against Taiwan?

Rudd’s office is refusing to comment on any matters relating to the latest WikiLeaks release, but Rudd was candid about the WikiLeaks cable drop in a doorstop with the Bahrain based outlet Al Arabiya on the 4th of December:

REPORTER: [translation] Who do you think has profited from what’s happened with WikiLeaks?

MR RUDD: I don’t believe anyone has profited from what has happened with the unauthorised release of classified information. You see diplomacy is necessary. Diplomacy is done in secret because diplomacy seeks to solve problems for which there are no other public solutions. Therefore what is at stake here is the essence of how we deal with international problems; the machinery through which we deal with international problems – the mechanism through which we deal with international problems, in the language in which we deal with international problems. And when this is all put into the public domain, it’s a problem for all of us to combine our efforts to deal with some of our fundamental challenges. Therefore we in Australia condemn the release of this material. It helps nobody. In fact it is a real problem for us all.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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