China, Japan Should Jointly Explore Disputed Islands: Kevin Rudd

Australia's former prime minister and longtime China watcher Kevin Rudd told CNBC that China and Japan can solve their dispute over the East China Sea islands by jointly exploring and sharing resources around these islands.

Australian former prime minister Kevin Rudd.
Philippe Lopez|AFP|Getty Images
Australian former prime minister Kevin Rudd.

Speaking to CNBC’s Bernie Lo, Rudd said, “If we can possibly agree on a joint exploration extraction entity which distributes the wealth resources which lie there around the region, that might help solve the sovereignty question.”

He added that "this will buy time for now,” and the nations can wait for the next generation of leaders to find a solution to the problem.

The islands called Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan are claimed by both countries. Two weeks ago Japan purchased the islands from a private owner that sparked wide protests in China, forcing many Japanese firms to shut down operations there.

China's Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and his Japanese counterpart Koichiro Gemba met Tuesday for about one hour on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York to discuss the situation but did not reach any conclusion.

Tensions between the two nations come at a time when China is preparing for a once-in-a-decade political transition. The international community is awaiting signs from the new leadership that China’s priority will be on economic reforms, and not military dominion, even as it stepped up its claims over the islands earlier this week by sending three Chinese ships into the waters near the islands.

Rudd said that the economic reforms in China will likely continue, with Xi Jinping emerging as the head of the new central policy-making committee within the government.

“What I sense is an overall reformist direction to leadership…not just preserving where they've gone on reforming the economy so far, but taking new steps as well in order to boost growth, bolster growth and critically bolster employment,” he added.

A fluent Mandarin speaker, Rudd has served as a top diplomat to China. He was Australia's prime minister from 2007 until he was ousted by members of his ruling Labor Party in June 2010. He also served as foreign minister until earlier this year and remains a member of Parliament.

Although Rudd has said he will not be challenging Prime Minister Julia Gillard for the job, speculation about his political ambitions intensified after a Nielsen poll published on September 12 in Australia showed him as the people’s choice to be the Labor’s Party leader.

He repeated his stand when asked if he would seek higher office.

“The bottom line is this, my position hasn't changed. I enjoy being a member of parliament,” he said. "This also gives me an amount of flexibility to get around the region more than I was before, and also to attend more to my own local community in Brisbane in Australia…life’s pretty good.”

Catch the full interview on CNBC’s "Straight Talk" over the weekend.

By CNBC’s Jean Chua.