Henry Kissinger marks 50 years since first China visit with call for talks to avoid ‘catastrophe’

Jul 14, 2021

Former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger called for serious dialogue between China and the United States to avoid “catastrophe”, during a Beijing event celebrating his historic trip to China 50 years ago.

The 98-year-old again warned against further deterioration of Sino-US relations when he appeared by video on Friday at an event in Beijing celebrating his first secret visit to China in 1971. That visit paved the way for China and the US to establish formal diplomatic relations in 1979.

“So here we are, 50 years later, in a situation in which the need for cooperation has not diminished,” Kissinger said in a video of his speech published by Chinese nationalistic tabloid Global Times. “Conflict between the US and China will divide the whole world and attempts to line up nations on one side or the other will create divisions in the world and temptations and pressures that will become increasingly difficult to resolve.”

The former diplomat, who has warned repeatedly against relations deteriorating, called for dialogue between the countries like the one he helped set up in 1972 between former US president Richard Nixon, to whom he was national security adviser, and Chinese leader Mao Zedong.

“I therefore hope that a serious dialogue starts soon again on the major issues between us,” he said. “Not every problem can have an immediate solution, but we should start from the premise that war between our two countries would be an unspeakable catastrophe.”

According to Chinese media outlet Caixin, Kissinger also spoke by video at the World Artificial Intelligence (AI) Conference on Thursday, saying that China and the US should refrain from seeking hegemony to safely develop AI and other cutting-edge technologies, adding that development of the field could be achieved only if “both sides agree on some limitations”.

Kissinger continued to be viewed in Beijing as a trailblazer and friend for his role in the normalisation of relations, even as tensions flared during the administrations of Donald Trump and Joe Biden. He has been referred to by Chinese President Xi Jinping as “an old friend of China” who “understands traditional Chinese culture”.

In his last visit to China in 2019, Kissinger endorsed comments by Xi about strengthening communication, amid growing signs of confrontation and a decoupling of economies.

However, the influence on US foreign policy of figures in the mould of Kissinger has waned. There is a growing bipartisan consensus in the US to shift from Kissinger’s engagement policy to one of strategic competition, including tougher actions to confront and compete with Beijing.

Kissinger has visited China nearly 100 times since that first secret trip in July 1971, when he met China’s then premier Zhou Enlai.

Few American politicians have been as revered in China as Kissinger, who over the decades has enjoyed unparalleled access to generations of Chinese leaders including Mao, Zhou, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao and Xi.

This article was written by Kinling Lo republished from South China Morning Post 9 July 2021. Click here to read the original article.

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