Former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger on Friday said that US-China tensions threaten to engulf the entire world and could lead to an Armageddon-like clash between the two military and technology giants.
The 97-year-old, who as an adviser to then-US president Richard Nixon crafted the 1971 unfreezing of relations between Washington and Beijing, said the mix of economic, military and technological strengths of the two superpowers carries more risks than the Cold War with the Soviet Union.
Strains with China are “the biggest problem for America, the biggest problem for the world,” Kissinger told the McCain Institute’s annual Sedona Forum on global issues.
“If we can’t solve that, then the risk is that all over the world a kind of cold war will develop between China and the United States,” Kissinger said.
While nuclear weapons were large enough to damage the entire globe during the Cold War, he said advances in nuclear technology and artificial intelligence — where China and the US are both leaders — have multiplied the doomsday threat.
“For the first time in human history, humanity has the capacity to extinguish itself in a finite period of time,” Kissinger said. “We have developed the technology of a power that is beyond what anybody imagined even 70 years ago.”
“And now, to the nuclear issue is added the high-tech issue, which in the field of artificial intelligence, in its essence is based on the fact that man becomes a partner of machines and that machines can develop their own judgement,” he said. “So in a military conflict between high-tech powers, it’s of colossal significance.”
The Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union during the decades after World War II was more one-dimensional, focused on nuclear weapons competition, said Kissinger, one of the leading strategic thinkers of the past six decades.
“The Soviet Union had no economic capacity. They had military technological capacity,” he said. They “didn’t have developmental technological capacity as China does. China is a huge economic power in addition to being a significant military power.”
Kissinger said US policy toward China must take a two-pronged approach: standing firm on US principles to demand China’s respect, while maintaining a constant dialogue and finding areas of cooperation.
“I’m not saying that diplomacy will always lead to beneficial results,” he said. “This is the complex task we have... Nobody has succeeded in doing it completely.”
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