Former US National Security Advisor, diplomat and geopolitical consultant Henry Kissinger said during President Nixon’s visit to China in 1972, a point was reached in discussions where Chairman Mao Zedong said: “We can wait, maybe even a hundred years” on the reunification with Taiwan.
Speaking to Fareed Zakaria, the host of CNN’s “GPS” talk show, Kissinger, now age 98, recounted that Mao said: “Someday we will ask for it, but we do not need to discuss it at this moment.
“When I first went to China, it was a poor and weak and very authoritative country,” Kissinger recalled of his first forays to the nation.
“Now it is a fairly rich, quite strong and still fairly authoritative country. But our challenge then, and our challenge now is to find a relationship in which we can compete without driving the situation into a Holocaust. And that is a big challenge for both leaders,” Kissinger said on CNN.
Both The People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the United States, the two most technologically advanced countries, have numerous capacities for destruction, he warned, and some of these capacities, involve the rapid emergence of artificial intelligence.
“They do not fully know what the consequences of using that are,” the elder statesman told Zakaria. “The challenge in any conflict is not how you begin it, but whether you know how to end it.”
‘One-China’ foreign policy
The danger, he added, is that both nations could slide into “a purely military kind of competition and into a conflict that is difficult to terminate.”
Putting his Chinese experience in perspective, Kissinger said both he and Nixon well understood the so-called “One-China” foreign policy.
Nixon, in fact, was well known for his masterful skill in foreign policy situations. It had been his specialty in Congress and as Vice-President under President Dwight Eisenhower.
“I believe that the ultimate joining of Taiwan and China, the ultimate creation of one China, it’s the objective of Chinese policy, as it has been since the creation of the current regime,” he said.
“And it probably would be in any Chinese government, since Taiwan has been considered a historic part of China … That was exactly the situation Nixon and I faced when we first began contact with China,” Kissinger told Zakaria.
President Joe Biden met virtually on November 15 with President Xi Jinping – a meeting that was intended to diffuse the current friction on economic and military fronts.
A White House press release states that the two leaders discussed the complex nature of relations between the two countries and the importance of managing competition responsibly. As in previous discussions, the two leaders covered areas where interests align and areas where interests, values, and perspectives diverge.
But analysts doubted whether much was really achieved, that the two nations remain far apart and appear to be on a dangerous collision course over Taiwan.
Kissinger was asked how he thought Biden did and responded that the president faced a “tough problem,” in the way United States policy and attitudes toward the PRC have developed.
“Everyone wants to be a China hawk,” he said. “Everyone assumes that China is determined to dominate the world and that, that is a primary objective,” Kissinger said on CNN.
“There is a position needed when fundamental values and interests of America are attacked, that there should not necessarily be an automatic rivalry and competition.
“And so I think Biden began to move in a direction of a different tone. That does not mean it is to try to find a level in which we can talk about those issues, known to be common. We should have a principal goal of avoiding confrontation,” Kissinger added.
And speaking of Taiwan, which is the storm center between the US and PRC foreign policy, Kissinger did not see an imminent threat of an invasion – but warned of the current threat of a military confrontation.
“I don’t expect an all-out attack on Taiwan in say a 10-year period, which is as far as I can see,” he said.
“[However] I think it is perfectly possible that if the confrontation keeps growing, that the Chinese will take measures that will weaken the Taiwanese ability to remain autonomous. I think it’s foreseeable and we will have to decide as it evolves to what degree we’d consider a military means, or, do what it is compatible within the political framework.”
Even with Mao’s long game, there are still 51 years to go, but perhaps Kissinger’s dire warnings should be heeded. Cooler heads on both sides should prevail.
Henry Kissinger’s new book with Eric Schmidt and Daniel Huttenlocher, The Age of AI: And Our Human Future, is published by Little, Brown and Company, and available on Amazon.