Former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger said the incoming administration of US president-elect Joe Biden should move quickly to restore lines of communication with China that frayed during US President Donald Trump’s term or risk a crisis that could escalate into military conflict.
“Unless there is some basis for some cooperative action, the world will slide into a catastrophe comparable to World War I,” Kissinger said during the opening session of the Bloomberg New Economy Forum.
He said military technologies available today would make such a crisis “even more difficult to control” than those of earlier eras.
“America and China are now drifting increasingly toward confrontation, and they’re conducting their diplomacy in a confrontational way,” the 97-year-old Kissinger said in an interview with Bloomberg News editor-in-chief John Micklethwait. “The danger is that some crisis will occur that will go beyond rhetoric into actual military conflict.”
The diplomat who paved the way for then-US president Richard Nixon’s historic 1972 trip to China said that he hoped that the shared threat of the COVID-19 pandemic would provide an opening for political discussions between the two countries when Biden takes office on Jan. 20.
“If you can look at COVID as a warning, in the sense that in practice it is dealt with by each country largely autonomously, but its long-term solution has to be on some global basis,” Kissinger said. “It should be dealt with as a lesson.”
US-China relations are at their lowest in decades, despite the two sides reaching a “phase one” trade deal at the start of the year. Since then, the virus outbreak that began in Wuhan, China, has gone global, killing more than 1.3 million people and crushing economies around the world.
As Trump stepped up his criticism of China, blaming it for the spread of the virus and the death toll in the US, each side also has ramped up moves the other sees as hostile.
Last week, China’s crackdown on Hong Kong’s autonomy continued, as officials there disqualified lawmakers viewed as insufficiently loyal to Beijing.
US officials have decried the death of the “one country, two systems” policy that has helped Beijing navigate its ties with the West for a generation.
The US followed up on its criticism by imposing new sanctions, banning investments in 31 Chinese firms it said are controlled by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army.
“Trump has a more confrontational method of negotiation than you can apply indefinitely,” Kissinger said.
Early in Trump’s term, “it was important for him to emphasize the deep concerns Americans have about the evolution of the world economy that is not balanced. I think that was important to emphasize. But since then, I would have preferred a more differentiated approach,” he said.
The swift erosion in ties this year means China and the US are edging toward a new cold war, Kissinger said, adding that the two sides should “agree that whatever other conflict they have, they will not resort to military conflict.”
To achieve that, the US and China should jointly create “an institutional system by which some leader that our president trusts and some Chinese leader that [Chinese] President Xi [Jinping (習近平)] trusts are designated to remain in contact with each other on behalf of their presidents,” he said.
Relations with China might dominate the foreign policy agenda of Biden’s administration.
He is expected to seek ways to defuse tensions in areas including 5G technology, China’s expansionism in the South China Sea and Hong Kong’s fading autonomy.
While Biden has decades of experience in dealing with China, his tone took a harsher turn during the presidential primaries. He frequently criticized China’s assertive policies in its region as well as Beijing’s human rights record, even branding Xi a “thug” during a debate in February.
“Of course, there are differences on the issue of human rights,” Kissinger said when asked what more China could do to improve relations. “It is important for each side to understand the sensitivities of the other, and not necessarily to solve the problem, but to alleviate it to a point where further progress is possible.”
Xi used a speech last week to call for countries to strengthen cooperation and avoid conflict, even as his policies set China on a collision course with the US.
China last week congratulated Biden and US vice president-elect Kamala Harris on their election victory.
“The United States and China have never faced countries of a magnitude that is roughly equal with the other,” Kissinger said. “This is the first experience. And we must avoid its turning into conflict and hopefully lead to some cooperative endeavors.”
Reviewing some of Biden’s proposals for addressing China, Kissinger urged caution when asked about the idea of building a coalition of democracies to take on Beijing.
“I think democracies should cooperate wherever their convictions allow it or dictate it,” he added. “I think a coalition aimed at a particular country is unwise, but a coalition to prevent dangers is necessary where the occasion requires.”
Ultimately, the two nations’ leaders need to recognize that they see the same issues very differently, and that colors their approach to talks, Kissinger said.
“Americans have had a history of relatively uninterrupted success,” he said. “The Chinese have had a very long history of repeated crises. America has had the good fortune of being free of immediate dangers. Chinese have usually been surrounded by countries that have had designs on their unity.”
Europe would increasingly find itself caught in a tug-of-war between the US and Eurasia, Kissinger added.
“Europe has been an anchor of American foreign policy in the entire post-World War II period,” he said. “The question for them now is whether, in the evolution of relations with other parts of the world, they will attempt to play a totally autonomous role.”
A long line of people on Sunday snaked across the sand of Miami Beach, Florida, as dozens of travelers from Latin America waited their turn at a pop-up COVID-19 vaccination booth. Sweating under the afternoon sun, visitors checked into an online system — no proof of residence required — and soon after received a free, single-dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and a vaccination card. People had come from all over Latin America — Ecuador, El Salvador, Venezuela — where the vaccine rollout has been slow and hampered by supply shortages. “In my country, [COVID-19] is getting out of hand and there’s
A man was left stranded on a glass-bottomed suspension bridge in northeastern China after sudden gale-force winds shattered the transparent panels around him. The man was on the 100m-high bridge at Piyan Mountain in Longjing city, when it was hit by sudden strong weather, the local tourism department said. TRAPPED Gusts of up to 150kph blew out several glass panels, trapping the tourist until he could be rescued by firefighters, police, and forestry and tourism personnel more than half an hour later. Photographs shared on social media showed the man clinging to the side of the bridge, surrounded by gaping holes where the
‘COVERT’ ACTIVITY: The High Court ruled against a Chinese-born Australian former adviser to a state lawmaker, who allegedly advanced ‘policy goals of a foreign principal’ A Chinese-born Australian political adviser yesterday lost his challenge in Australia’s highest court against laws banning covert foreign interference in domestic politics. John Zhang (張智森) also lost his Australian High Court challenge in a unanimous decision of seven judges to the validity of search warrants executed by police at his Sydney home and offices last year as part of an investigation into illegal foreign interference on behalf of China. Zhang was an adviser to New South Wales Lawmaker Shaoquett Moselmane, whose membership in the opposition Labor Party was suspended after he was also the target of police raids. The raids in June last
US actress Scarlett Johansson on Saturday urged the film industry to “step back” from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) as criticism of the opaque film industry group, which controls the Golden Globe awards, continues to mount for sexism and racism. The Avengers star said in a statement that the “HFPA is an organization that was legitimized by the likes of Harvey Weinstein to amass momentum for Academy recognition.” Johansson said that “as an actor promoting a film,” participating in the organization’s news conferences and award shows “has often meant facing sexist questions and remarks by certain HFPA members that bordered on