Remember Kevin Rudd? The former prime minister might no longer be foremost in Australian minds — particularly in a period in which a more historically significant Labor leader passed — but his presence continues to grow in the US.
The New York-based Asia Society announced last week that Rudd would serve as the first permanent president of its nascent policy institute, which is focused on the rise of Asia. The appointment will begin in January 2015 and follow the conclusion of Rudd's term as a non-resident Fellow with the Belfer Center at Harvard University's John F Kennedy School of Government, where he has been leading a program looking at 'alternative futures' for US-China relations.
The attainment of that position of course followed a fairly hasty retreat from the Australian political scene after that ill-fated 2013 return to the national leadership.
Freed from experiencing the nastiness of those domestic matters, US political thinkers seem to hold Rudd in the highest regard, particularly where Asia is concerned.
When he appeared alongside former US Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson at a well-received talk on China at the Asia Society in September he was heralded as one of the 'West's best-informed thinkers' on the region, and roundly praised for achievements such as steering Australia through the Global Financial Crisis.
Rudd naturally did himself many favours by regularly breaking into Mandarin and revealing his intimate knowledge of China's internal politics and society during that appearance, and he will look to employ these hard-won advantages to good effect in the new role.
As an ardent foreign policy wonk, he will no doubt be thrilled to be working with former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who is an Honorary Counselor at the institute.* Kissinger described Rudd as a 'rare global thinker and a sophisticated practitioner of global policy making' in an Asia Society statement on the announcement.
As well as a personal victory, the appointment could also be seen as a win for Australia and its prominence in studies of Asia's rise.
The Asia Society nominally includes Australia as part of its purview, and maintains a Sydney office, but the majority of its members and audience still seem somewhat ignorant of the level of Australian interactions in the region. There was, for example, audible surprise at that September talk when Rudd mentioned that about as many Chinese students were studying at Australian universities as at American equivalents.
It could also have implications for Rudd's supposed ambitions for the UN Secretary-General's role, which becomes available at the end of 2016. Might two years in the new role increase his chances of replacing Ban Ki-Moon?
Originally published by The Lowy Institute publication The Interpreter. Republished with permission.