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Kissinger on China and the US

On the momentous occasion of Henry Kissinger’s 100th birthday, he still continues to divulge his astute observations on the complex realm of US-China relations. With unwavering acuity, Kissinger keeps on pensively advising Washington to eschew hasty adversarial tendencies and, instead, engage in thoughtful dialogue – a course vital for the betterment of humanity. But there are sombre apprehensions regarding the Biden Administration’s disposition towards heeding the sage counsel of this venerable centenarian.

Kissinger embodies an unparalleled depth of knowledge when it comes to global affairs. His extensive journey, from scholarly pursuits in 19th-century diplomacy to serving as the national security adviser and secretary of state, followed by four decades as a trusted advisor and envoy to many world leaders, has bestowed upon him a unique perspective. Few individuals possess such a rich tapestry of experiences, engaging with monarchs, presidents, and prime ministers across the globe. Few have left an indelible mark quite like Henry Kissinger. Despite departing from his last official government role nearly five decades ago, his enduring influence and captivating ideas continue to captivate public attention. Even today, Kissinger’s accomplishments during his tenure in government, spanning just eight years, stand as a testament to his pragmatic approach.

Collaborating closely with presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, Kissinger steered the United States through the tumultuous quagmire of the Vietnam war and the assertiveness of the Soviet Union, stabilizing America’s geopolitical standing. More importantly, his strategic intent orchestrated a diplomatic opening with China, forging a formidable partnership to counter the Soviet Union’s might. In the Middle East, Kissinger also played a pivotal role in cementing American support for Israel while skillfully courting Egypt away from the Soviet orbit into a beneficial alliance with the United States. The imprint of Kissinger’s diplomatic finesse remains a testament to his lasting impact on international relations.

Kissinger’s illustrious career is punctuated by his remarkable contributions to fostering robust China-US relations – a pinnacle achievement that reverberates to this day. Guided by a pragmatic approach that transcends ideological dissensions, Kissinger skillfully steered the intricate dynamics between the two countries. His resolute commitment to engaging with China on the grounds of reality and mutual respect, underscored by an unwavering emphasis on equality, laid the foundation for diplomatic connection. Recognizing the imperative of setting aside differences, Kissinger’s trailblazing efforts epitomize the spirit of cooperation and collaboration, cementing his enduring legacy as a vanguard in promoting harmonious China-US relations.

Henry Kissinger’s staunch belief in understanding and respecting the core aspirations and sensitivities of opponents remains steadfast, an attribute seemingly overlooked by many contemporary leaders, particularly within the United States. In the case of China, Kissinger eloquently articulates that American officials often misinterpret China’s intentions, mistakenly assuming them to be a desire for world domination and hegemony. Kissinger dispels this notion, explaining that China seeks strength and influence, rather than an iniquitous pursuit of global hegemony. Such a perspective provides crucial insights into China’s mindset and its approach to shaping the world order. Kissinger’s nuanced understanding underscores the importance of engaging in dialogue and developing an empathetic comprehension of China’s motivations.

In a recent interview with The Economist, Henry Kissinger provided astute insights and cautionary advice on several critical global issues. With a measured perspective, he emphasized the imperative of effectively managing the potential risks of a conflict between China and the United States. Expressing deep concern, Kissinger revealed his alarm at the escalating technological and economic rivalry between China and the United States in his interview with the Economist. He said, “We’re in the classic pre-world war one situation where neither side has much margin of political concession and in which any disturbance of the equilibrium can lead to catastrophic consequences”. Similarly, during another recent interview with the WSJ, Kissinger asserted that “to prevent war with China, the US needs to refrain from being heedlessly adversarial and pursue dialogue instead.”

Recognizing the gravity of the situation, he highlighted the intensifying competition between the two nations, stressing the need for careful consideration and strategic foresight. Kissinger’s apprehension underscores the significance of managing this delicate dynamic to ensure stability and cooperation in the global arena. Henry Kissinger’s diplomatic approach is rooted in pragmatic realism, eschewing ideological biases and placing a premium on equilibrium.

Shaped by the harrowing experience of World War II, a period marked by unprecedented devastation and violence, Kissinger recognizes the profound human cost inflicted by wars. Drawing from this understanding, he emphasizes the futility of conflict and the immeasurable toll it exacts upon societies. With a keen awareness of history’s lessons, Kissinger champions a path that prioritizes peaceful resolutions and mutual understanding. His discerning perspective serves as a timely reminder that the true gains from avoiding wars far outweigh the fleeting benefits they may appear to offer. In the rapidly evolving global landscape, his wisdom reminds us of the imperative to avoid mischaracterizations and approach China with a nuanced understanding that transcends simplistic narratives. Amidst growing indications of more frequent engagements at the official level, it appears that the pragmatic advice of Kissinger is not resonating with the current Biden administration. Despite the potential benefits, there seems to be a reluctance to heed his wise advice.

During the cold-war period, Kissinger viewed the Soviet Union as a rival power to be managed while Reagan perceived the Soviet Union as a repugnant ideology to be defeated. Exactly the same is being repeated in the case of China, it seems. Kissinger’s remarkable legacy encompasses his significant contributions to the enhancement of China-US relations. This pivotal chapter in his career stands as a testament to his visionary approach, rooted in the principles of pragmatism, mutual respect, and equality. By steadfastly advocating the importance of setting aside ideological differences, Kissinger laid the foundation for a constructive and enduring dialogue between the two nations.

Pragmatism lies at the core of responsible foreign policy, transcending ideological divides and prioritizing national interests. Regrettably, some American politicians have fallen prey to a myopic approach, viewing the world through the lens of zero-sum games with perceived ideological adversaries. This narrow perspective has resulted in the politicization of US-China relations, with China being unfairly scapegoated for a multitude of domestic challenges.

It is crucial for US policymakers to heed Kissinger’s wisdom and adopt a long-term perspective in shaping their foreign strategy. They must recognize that Sino-US relations hold tremendous global significance and should be approached with the utmost responsibility. Rather than fostering confrontation, the emphasis should be placed on nurturing peace and stability between these two influential nations. Partisan politics have undeniably hijacked the US’s China policy, undermining the potential for constructive engagement and cooperation.

By abandoning ideological tunnel vision and embracing a pragmatic mindset, American politicians can better grasp the evolving dynamics of international relations. They should prioritize the interests of their country while recognizing that collaboration, rather than conflict, is the pathway to progress in the interconnected world we inhabit. His legacy serves as a guiding light, reminding us of the transformative power of dialogue, understanding, and respect. Safeguarding peace and stability in China-US relations must take precedence over the shortsighted pursuits of partisan agendas. Only by embracing a responsible and balanced approach can the US hope to contribute positively to the global stage and forge a mutually beneficial relationship with China.

Dr Imran Khalid, "Kissinger on China and the US," The News. 2023-06-04.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Foreign policy , Politicians , Policymakers , Henry Kissinger , President Biden , United States , China