Meeting with Henry Kissinger is a rendezvous with history, especially if the story unfolds between the power of yesterday and today. At the Second International Conference organized by the CCIE think tank – China Conference for International Economic Exchange – Kissinger was the guest of honour, who was proceeded by Romano Prodi 2 years ago in the protocol. On June 25th and 26th, Beijing dressed in humble clothing and called on international thinkers to offer analysis and advice for the international crisis. The goal is to build global governance that takes into account a new set of scales. As a member of Asia Observatory, I had the opportunity to closely monitor Kissinger’s performance, global asset guru, also in China to present his 16th book; On China. Facing Li Keqiang, the next Prime Minister, Kissinger did not betray his character. He began by saying that he was not an economist but a historian and therefore retraced the rebirth of China. He retained his German accent, a memory of his first 15 years of his life in Germany before immigrating to escape the Holocaust. He also maintained a realistic approach, negotiating, devoid of any sentimentality or illusion. At 88 years old, his analysis confirms to be acute and merciless, only his pace is more uncertain. The former Secretary of State is considered to be a long-time friend of China.
His political positions, antagonistic to those of Beijing, give way to the memory of those who understood that China demanded respect and dignity before anything else. Kissinger gave these to them not out of conviction but for convenience. However this was not enough for either party. China knows that the foreign policy of each country is targeted by their interests. It is not disturbed by pragmatism, because historically their virtues are well known. It does not fear diplomatic pressure because negotiation is one of its strengths. Kissinger has found the key to bring China to the negotiating table: ensuring mutual benefit and ensuring non-interference in internal affairs.
From the pages of “On China”, this approach is clear when taken from the more meaningful pages of the book, as relationships reconnect. In the early 70s, the U.S. was torn by the Vietnam War which was more and more contested and less and less successful. They needed a way out and the least painful as possible, a “withdrawal with honour” in the words of Nixon. The solution was China, crossed by even more harrowing tensions. The country was in the throes of the Cultural Revolution, a decade of ideological extremism that had affected the economic launch. It was important to be equal even if in poverty.
The world’s most populous country was marginalized by international context. It was recording only modest trade, it was not attracting investments, and it was in tension with the United States and all its neighbouring countries. Friction with Moscow was very high and resulted in the Ussuri River War of 1969. The White House offered an opportunity to come out of isolation. Anti-sovietism was the immediate and common interest and the mantle theory was the search for a multi polar world. Kissinger went to China twice in 1971; first time in secret. He met Premier Zhou En Lai to prepare for the spectacular meeting between Nixon and Mao the following year.
Ironically, the book says that the preparation was relatively simple: “It was inevitable that China and the United States found a way to meet, given the need at that time. It would have happened sooner or later, whatever the leadership was in the 2 countries.” Once again, politics first. Since that visit, Kissinger returned 50 times and is honoured each time. China seems to forget the most controversial aspects of his policy; from Chile to Vietnam, from Argentina to Portugal. Today, without the arsenal shadow behind him, he regained the professorial tone of his early days. He is one of the last symbols of the Cold War, a totem of a religion that no longer exists. When he writes books or speeches, he arouses less fear.