CAMG's Interview with Geoff Raby at China's 18th National Congress
CAMG interviewed Australia's former ambassador to China Geoff Raby during The People's Republic of China's 18th National Congress
As the morning of day three of the 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party got off to its usual start – traffic so bad the roads become long winding car parks – I sat in the Regis Hotel in with Dr. Geoff Raby, former Australian Ambassador to China (2007 – 2011).
When asked what he was looking forward to from the 18th congress, Dr. Raby expressed his desire to know what would be the final leadership line-up for the central committee of the party. ‘A lot of guessing is going on, we know that Xi Jinping will be President and Li Keqiang will emerge as the premier but beyond that there’s still a lot of speculation’, he said. He then added that this did not mean that the party has not already decided on who the leaders will be, ‘it just means outsiders don’t know, which is a remarkable thing about the Chinese Communist Party in the modern age’.
Dr. Raby did not describe the party’s lack of transparency in a cynical way, nor did he have the sort of “fed up with CCP antics” attitude displayed by BBC journalist Jo Floto interviewed at the opening ceremony two days ago. Dr. Raby’s take on the Chinese Communist Party is refreshingly human – that is to say, whilst noting that there are things about the party that he cannot know, like the composition of top leaders, his experience as Australian Ambassador to China have given him the opportunity to personally meet top party leaders.
Among these is Xi Jinping, with whom he traveled around Australia for five days in June 2010. Xi Jinping specifically requested to see Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory and ‘loved it’. Raby’s own view of Xi is that he’s ‘capable’,’ very intelligent’, ‘modern’, ‘outward-looking, ‘personable’ and ‘very humble’. He described how Xi Jinping chose not to have his own private car on the two-hour drive from Darwin to Kakadu, but to sit in the bus with the rest of his team. According to Raby, he was very happy to have his photograph taken with all his staff including junior staff and security staff one by one standing in the sun with a large crocodile in the background’.Raby’s observations of Xi Jinping contribute towards his general opinion that new leadership will be a ‘more modern, more international leadership’, an indication that the party changes to reflect changes in society. For example, he says, the incumbent premier Li Keqiang is ‘very very good’ at English – the first premier in the history of the People’s Republic of China to be proficient in it. The idea of the party making reactionary changes to itself to keep up with society is not new and is in fact one of the key tenets of ‘Socialism with Chinese characteristics’. The reason Hu Jintao at the opening ceremony and Cai Mingzhao at the introductory press conference repeated the string of names in the order, Marx/Lenin – Mao Zedong – Deng Xiaoping – Jiang Zemin is because their leaderships are shining examples of policies that were often very different from each other, or in some cases contradictory.