Kevin Rudd speaks during the launch of the Quarterly Essay "Red Flag".
Kevin Rudd speaks during the launch of the Quarterly Essay "Red Flag". (Image: AAP/Lukas Coch)

Kevin Rudd, once a firm China sceptic, has become Australia’s first (former) prime minister to openly consort with the ruling Communist Party’s United Front Work Department (UFWD).

The UFWD is responsible for spreading Chinese government interests in offshore nations — including Australia.

UFWD groups are disguised with dull and prosaic names, but their real purpose is to infiltrate nations across the world to influence business, politics, policy and education, and report directly back to Beijing.

Rudd, who was PM from 2007-2009 and again in 2012, spoke in the Communist Party’s UFWD’s Central Institute of Socialism in November 2017. In October 2018, he was greeted as a “rock star” according to a report in the AFR at the United Front-sponsored Australia-China Future Forum.

Kevin Rudd at Australia-China Future Forum tweet
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But it was his appearance this year with the leadership of the UFWD body Australia China Economics, Trade and Culture Association (ACETCA) that set China watchers abuzz. At an ACETCA event in Fujian, China, in June he was seen with Lin Yi, chair of Shenglong (Aqualand) and permanent honorary chair of ACETCA.

The connection with ACETCA is now very much a Rudd family business. Rudd’s youngest son Marcus is a principal at advisory firm Tam and Rudd Consulting. His business partner Ian Tam is a prominent United Front identity in Australia and vice-chairman of ACETCA.

Crikey understands Tam is the driving force behind the group. At the First International Grasslands Spring Festival Evening on Sydney Harbour, Tam was noted as the “representative of former Australian PM Kevin Rudd“.

Rudd himself is the head of New York-based Asia Society Policy Institute, which has a laser focus on China. His daughter Jessica, an author, is a lifestyle ambassador for Jack Ma’s Alibaba Group, a conglomerate closely connected to the CPP.

She sells Australian products into China via her Jessica’s Suitcase website, which is on the Alibaba platform. Her husband Albert Tse, who was working at Macquarie Group in Beijing less than a decade ago as an investment banker, now has his own own private equity firm, Wattle Hill Capital, that has the backing of several wealthy Chinese families.

Rudd was also made chair of the Chinese North International University Alliance international advisory board in March 2019, and last month was elected chairman of the China-backed Global Sharing Economy Forum.

In light of this, it’s worth noting that on November 25, Kevin Rudd launched Peter Hartcher’s Quarterly Essay, “Red Flag”, about Chinese influence and how Australia should deal with it, now the dominant narrative of China-Australia relations.

What happened to the feisty Rudd of yesteryear, who took on China over Tibet, and branded the Communist Party as “trying to rat-fuck us” after they sank the Copenhagen Climate Conference? What happened to the Rudd who described the country as a potential military threat in a 2009 defence white paper?

Now he’s downplaying concerns over Chinese influence in Australia.

Rudd said it was “kind of crazy to overreact and to get into reds under the bed land, to get into yellow peril land” regarding warnings from Australian security chiefs about Chinese influence. It’s hard to fathom a former prime minister describing credible information about the Chinese government trying install operatives in Australian Parliament as an “overreaction.”

Sure, Labor supported the foreign interference legislation, Rudd admits, but adds quickly that “should not result in some sort of anti-Chinese domestic political witch-hunt”.

But he failed to tell the gathered throng about his connections with UFWD organisations, that he has assiduously rebuilt his ties with Beijing and worked his way back into its good graces.

By 2017, Rudd was in deep. He started repeating a party propaganda line, claiming that under President Xi Jinping there had been more freedom of religion in China. In fact, under Xi, religious diversity is being repressed with an aggression not seen since the time of Mao Zedong. As well, Rudd has barely issued a murmur of the incarceration of 1.2 million Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang gulags.

There is, of course, another path for former political leaders — one that people like former US president Jimmy Carter have taken. And that is to use cachet and influence to work for the rights and freedoms of people trapped in authoritarian systems.

One person who could use Rudd’s help right now is writer Yang Hengjun who, it was revealed last week, has had his interrogation regime ratcheted up as Chinese authorities strive to force a “confession”, quite possibly through torture.

But that isn’t the sort of thing Rudd would want to chat about over a bottle of Moutai with his mates at the United Front.