Former Australian prime minister John Howard has labelled China a “transgressor” and predicted the Asian power faced “a demographic problem of immense proportions”.
Mr Howard, speaking on a panel of Australian and US political and trade heavyweights on Thursday (Friday AEST), said he rejected talk America was in a period of decline and on an inevitable path for a showdown with China.
“China is a transgressor,” Mr Howard said.
“China may go to the World Economic Forum in Davos and say, ‘We are the new standard bearers of free trade’.
“Give me a break.”
Mr Howard was speaking alongside Australian Ambassador to the US Arthur Sinodinos, former ambassadors Joe Hockey and Michael Thawley and former top US trade negotiators Robert Zoellick and Wendy Cutler.
The webinar was organised by the United States Studies Centre to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Australian-US free-trade-agreement.
Mr Howard said he remained optimistic about America’s future and expected the US to emerge from its “current political phase”.
“Countries go through phases,” Mr Howard said.
“If you think the current situation in the US is difficult, I can remember the decade of the 1960s.
“It was a horror decade for the US.”
The former prime minister said the US has a brighter outlook than China.
“I am somebody who rejects totally this idea that America has entered a period of decline and some kind of showdown between America and China is inevitable,” he said.
“I don’t think it is inevitable.
“I think it is possible, but I think if we bear in mind the inhibiting factors China has then the situation is a lot brighter than what many people give the Americans credit for.”
China, he said, faces “a demographic problem of immense proportions” with a growing section of its population born into affluence and eventually wrestling with being told what to do by an authoritarian government.
“There is no sign of it at the moment because you have the high watermark of authoritarianism under (Chinese leader) Xi Jinping, but throw forward 20 or 30 years,” Mr Howard said.
“Is that going to be the same when you have a much larger percentage of the Chinese population that has been born into affluence and will want a say in their lives?”
Mr Howard encouraged Australians to remember how important China is to Australia as an export destination.