New elections have not even been scheduled yet, but the oddsmakers are predicting Australian PM John Howard won't survive the next round, and apparently the Chinese have been taking note.
In Sydney for the upcoming APEC summit, Chinese President Hu Jintao met with opposition leader Kevin Rudd (Labour Party) for half an hour today. During the warm and friendly exchange, Mr. Rudd presented President Hu with a pair of opal cufflinks, and Hu invited Rudd and his family to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. An article in Melbourne's The Age offered this intriguing detail:
During a 30-minute conversation conducted entirely in Mandarin, Mr Hu complimented Mr Rudd on his fluency and thanked him for his commitment to developing the Australia-China relationship.[My Italics]Rudd, a former diplomat to China who spent several years there with his family, also addressed Hu in Chinese during the official welcoming luncheon. The Sydney Morning Herald observed appreciatively of Rudd's speech,
To anyone versed in Chinese culture, as is Rudd, these sentiments of family, children, cultural links and even the homework were right on the money for such an occasion. John Howard and [Foreign Minister] Alexander Downer could only look on and grimace.It also appears that the U.S. is reading from the same playbook as China. Despite his vocal support for John Howard, President George W. Bush's own 10-minute meeting with Rudd (in English) ran more than half an hour overtime, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pointedly refused to criticize Rudd's plan to withdraw troops from Iraq (as she had condemned those of the previous Labour leader) saying instead only that, "I would just hope that any Australian prime minister would make the decision on Australia's defense commitment based on what it would take to get the job done."
As for Hu's rather extraordinary personal invitation to attend the Beijing Olympics. The Age noted, "Prime Minister John Howard met Mr Hu yesterday, but it was not immediately clear if he had received a similar offer."