Kevin Rudd loves telling this story. Mr Rudd, who this week became the leader of the Australian Labor Party (ALP), was once a junior diplomat in the Australian embassy in Beijing and, because he spoke fluent Putonghua, would occasionally interpret for ambassador Ross Garnaut.
But when Mr Garnaut told his Chinese counterparts at a meeting that Australia and China were experiencing a period of unprecedented closeness, Mr Rudd's translation had the Chinese in fits of laughter. "Apparently what I said in Chinese was that China and Australia are currently experiencing fantastic simultaneous orgasms," Mr Rudd says.
Mr Rudd will lead the ALP into next year's general election against Prime Minister John Howard. If he wins, Australia will have a prime minister who is immersed in China.
Mr Rudd studied Chinese and Chinese history at the Australian National University in the 1970s. As he puts it, in those days someone with that sort of qualification was unemployable in Australia - except in the foreign service. And that is how he came to be in Beijing in the 1980s. Since then, he has regularly worked in, and visited, China.
For the past five years, Mr Rudd has been the opposition spokesman for foreign affairs, giving him ample opportunity to scrutinise the Howard Government's strategy towards China and articulate an alternative vision.
In some respects there is little to separate the ALP's views on China from those of the Howard Government. But if Mr Rudd does become the next prime minister, we can expect to see the implementation of what he calls a 25-year, Australia-China strategy.
Apart from continuing to build a strong economic relationship with mainland China, Australia needs to become more engaged on key questions, such as Taiwan - and to ensure a much greater focus on understanding China - Mr Rudd said, in a speech to the China Institute for Contemporary International Relations, in Beijing last year.
Mr Howard's Government tends towards the view that Australia ought to keep a low profile in the mainland-Taiwan conflict. But Mr Rudd says that a "core objective of Australia's long-term relationship with China must be to avoid conflict across the Taiwan Strait". Australia must try to ensure that the "Taiwan matter" does not go radically wrong, he says.
Like Paul Keating - a prime minister who championed greater Australian engagement with China, and Asia generally - Mr Rudd says his vision "for Australia's future is to be the single most China-literate, and for that matter Asian-literate, country in the western world". He has his work cut out for him on that score, since fewer than one million Australian students are studying an Asian language. Mr Rudd promises an injection of funds to lift those figures.
Mr Howard sees Australia as a bridge between the US and China, notes Mr Rudd. But that will remain only a dream unless Australia creates "such a depth and breadth of Asia-related and China-related expertise that the rest of the world automatically turns to Australia to assist", he says.
Despite his undoubted enthusiasm and optimism about the Australian-Chinese relationship, it would be a mistake to think that Mr Rudd would turn a blind eye to Chinese human-rights and labour-standards issues. And he makes no suggestion that he would risk breaking the long-standing US-Australian alliance simply to further relations with China.
Mr Rudd faces a real challenge in unseating the popular Mr Howard. But if he does win, Australia's engagement with China will be ratcheted up a few gears.
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