Dr. Henry Kissinger has just passed his 100th birthday (May 27, 2023), and the Chinese respectfully call centenarians ‘Renrui’ 人瑞. This is not only because it is not easy for people to live to be a hundred years old, but also because the rich life experience of centenarians is worth cherishing. As we examine the life experience of Dr. Kissinger, the former US Secretary of State, his political and diplomatic career, and his contribution to the country, we find they are very significant, hardly anyone before him or after him can compare. So, when US-China relations reached a near-freezing point, Kissinger’s visit to Beijing in mid-July at the age of 100 had to be noticed. He met Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu, State Councilor and Foreign Affairs Director Wang Yi, and President Xi Jinping, respectively, further highlighting the significance of his trip. In the past few months, current U.S. Secretary of State Blinken, Treasury Secretary Yellen and Special Envoy for Climate Change Kerry had all visited China, but there had been little remarkable improvement in their diplomatic or bilateral relations. China only clearly expressed its concerns to the visitors.
Among many issues, the U.S. desperately hopes to establish a military dialogue with China, because the dialogue channel has been cut off since the U.S. sanctioned Li Shangfu. Without a military dialogue channel means no guardrail. Without guardrails, the US military operations in the South China Sea, the Taiwan Strait. and the encirclement of China could create dangerous clashes because of accidental misfires. Should dangerous incidents occur, the U.S., unprepared, would have little chance of winning by many of its own military analyses. Therefore, the U.S. feels blindfolded, hands and elbows tied, and insecure. Its Asia-Pacific strategy would feel like being built on a sand beach. On the one hand, the U.S. wants to beat the drums to encourage its allies to confront and challenge China, and on the hand, it must suppress and prevent its allies from misfiring. It is indeed an awkward and contradictory position to be in.
The official U.S. policy towards China still maintains a hegemonic mentality and is not sincere. The Chinese side sees through the hypocrisy and the two-faced tactics of the U.S. It has no illusions and has exhausted its patience thus giving no kind face to the U.S. official visitors. This is the driving force behind centenarian Kissinger’s visit to Beijing. There are his personal wishes as well as external motivation or encouragement. It is not difficult to imagine that the Biden team, at wit’s end, will find Kissinger helpful in thawing the frozen U.S. - China relations, and his trip will not be ridiculed by the Republican Party. The Chinese have always shown high respect to seniors and wise people, it is righteous and a virtue to love and value old friends. Naturally, they would meet Kissinger and treat him with VIP etiquette, which is of course considered reasonable by the Chinese people.
From Kissinger’s meeting agenda meeting Li Shang Fu first, we must admit that Kissinger is a veteran diplomat. He recognizes that the Sino-US military exchanges and keeping official communication channels at all levels open is the top priority of Sino-US relations. He is also aware of the hypocrisy of the U.S. in using sanctions in diplomacy. (India's Modi, South Korea's Yoon Suk Yeol, and Marcos of the Philippines are obvious examples compared with China's Li Shangfu.) As for whether Kissinger can get the U.S. to lift the sanctions on Li without ‘losing the face’ of the U.S. and prompt Li to accept US Secretary of Defense Austin’s phone calls, it depends on whether he can create conditions acceptable to both parties to make up. According to the author's analysis, this possibility is very high, which will be known soon enough after Kissinger's briefing on his China trip to Biden. After all, China always wanted dialogue on an equal footing.
Kissinger, a Republican, served as President Nixon's secretary of state and national security adviser. His diplomatic mediation skills are evident in the melting of ice between the U.S. and China towards the establishment of diplomatic relations. He can explore the crux of the problems between the two sides, find out where each other can make concessions, and then propose a viable solution that is acceptable to both sides. Kissinger is Jewish, he is known to be patriotic and loyal to the U.S. As a Republican, he adopts Republican conservatism and he is a realist accepting a pragmatic (realist) political stance. He has a good understanding of the current international situation and believes that it resembles the situation before the First World War, thus likely to trigger World War III. Since he has visited China a hundred times, he knows China very well and clearly recognizes that Taiwan is China's core issue. He is worried that the current US-China policy is going astray and that Biden's national security and diplomatic team is over-versed in hegemonic ideology with not enough experience in G-level (G2, G3, G7, G20, for instance) diplomacy.
Kissinger also has a deep understanding of Chinese history and culture, so he knows that it is unwise for the U.S. to confront nor decouple China. However, from Trump to Biden, they all followed the policy of resisting China and blaming China and did not adopt Kissinger’s suggestion. Today, at the age of 100, Kissinger once again took on the task of 'melting the ice'. Although he does not have an official title in the U.S. government, his skills in analyzing problems and mediating disputes do not seem to be reduced by his age. This is something that the two parties in the U.S. should be grateful for. The author hopes that Kissinger’s trip can achieve the goal of melting the ice between the U.S. and China as he did fifty-two years ago. The author also hopes that the current U.S. diplomats who are two generations younger than Kissinger can humbly accept his remarks after his China trip, learn some lessons in the diplomacy of equality between major powers, and come up with a sincere win-win U.S.-China foreign policy.
At present, the U.S. - China diplomatic relations are very disappointing at the official level. China lost patience in dealing with U.S. officials, in desperation, China pins its hopes on American civil leaders, such as Bill Gates and Elon Musk. However, the relationship between major powers is complicated and intricate, and it must have organized and systematic exchanges and cooperation to be effective. For example, the U.S. and China should cooperate in space exploration/technology to make rapid progress and contributions to mankind. Similarly, in medicine and biology, the joint research and development of China and the West will certainly make greater achievements. On climate change, both countries have a considerable understanding of the problem; as long as both sides show sincerity, whether they cooperate or compete, setting goals for progress will lead the way to drive human beings to meet the climate challenge.
If unwarranted national security concerns (fake issues on false assumptions) are put aside, there are many areas where the US and China can cooperate (less money to be wasted in building missiles, fast fighter jets, naval carriers, and submarines). Let us hope that Kissinger's trip to China will be proven worthwhile, that his hard work will pay off, and that it will have a positive impact on US-China relations in the future. Hopefully, Kissinger's trip will become a positive milestone in Sino-US relations. This is the deep meaning of the centenarian’s visit to China!