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The significance of Kissinger’s trip to the People’s Republic of China

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Giancarlo Valori

On 20 July Chinese President Xi Jinping pointed out that Henry Kissinger had recently celebrated his 100th birthday and had visited the People’s Republic of China more than a hundred times. The combination of these two “hundreds” makes this time’s visit to the People’s Republic of China particularly significant.

Kissinger’s trip to Chinese soil was preceded by the visit of Xie Feng, the new Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to the United States of America. The diplomat travelled to Kent, Connecticut, to meet Kissinger and express the congratulations of the People’s Republic of China on his 100th birthday. The two sides exchanged in-depth views on Sino-US relations and international and regional issues of common interest.

Fifty-two years ago, the People’s Republic of China and the United States of America were at a critical turning point. Chairman Mao Zedong, Prime Minister Zhou Enlai, President Richard Nixon and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger made the right choice of Sino-US cooperation with an outstanding strategic vision, and initiated the process of normalising Sino-US relations. That breakthrough changed the two countries and led the world into a state of greater detente, not forgetting that the Helsinki Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, held in the Finnish capital in July-August 1975, saw Henry Kissinger, who became the 56th US Secretary of State, as one of the major grey eminences of that diplomatic event. It was a new Congress of Vienna where the new “Metternich/Talleyrand” had a big say in the matter behind the scenes.

The Chinese value and appreciate friendship and do not forget their old friend and his historic contribution to promoting the development of mutual relations and strengthening friendship between the Chinese and American peoples. The world is currently undergoing major changes never seen in a century in the international structure. The People’s Republic of China and the United States of America are once again at a crossroads to decide where to go, and both sides are forced to make fundamental choices.

Looking ahead, China and the Unites States can achieve mutual success and common prosperity. The key is to follow the three principles of mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and win-win cooperation. It is on this basis that the People’s Republic of China is willing to discuss with the United States how the two countries can get along and promote the steady development of contacts, which is beneficial to both sides and especially to the rest of the world.

In this regard, it is hoped that Kissinger and those with special foreign policy insight in the United States – who are not the faint-hearted figure who pro forma continues to hold the role of Head of State – will continue to play a constructive role in putting the US-China relationship back on the right track it took more than half a century ago.

In his meeting with Xi Jinping, Kissinger expressed his gratitude to the Chinese President for having met him in the same building where Kissinger had secretly seen senior Chinese leaders on 9-11 July during his first visit to the People’s Republic of China.

The Chinese side stated that the principles laid down in the Shanghai Joint Communiqué of the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China – a diplomatic document issued by the parties on 27 February 1972, the last evening of President Richard Nixon’s visit to Chinese soil – should be respected.

In that document the United States “acknowledged” that “all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China”. It must be said, however, that the use of the word “acknowledged” rather than “accepted” is often cited as an example of the US ambiguous position regarding Taiwan’s future, whereas in the agreed Chinese translation there are the words “cheng ren (承认(承认)”, which mean both “acknowledgement” and “acceptance”.

The Joint Communiqué also included the wish to expand economic and cultural contacts between the two countries, although no concrete steps were mentioned. The Communiqué stated that the normalisation of relations would contribute to “the easing of tension in Asia and the rest of the world”.

The relations with the United States were launched on 1 January 1979 and were based on an unusual compromise: the People’s Republic of China would never declare that it would not use force against Taiwan, but at the same time it did not object to the United States continuing to supply armaments to the Taipei government, with which the White House had formally broken off relations on 16 December 1978.

Before meeting President Xi Jinping, Kissinger met with Chinese State Councillor and Defence Minister Li Shangfu on 18 July. The Chinese Minister stated that some people in the United States do not wish to meet China halfway, and this caused Sino-US relations to swing to their lowest point since the establishment of the aforementioned diplomatic relations.

The reality of interdependence between the two countries was ignored, the issue of win-win cooperation was distorted, and the atmosphere of friendly communication was greatly undermined.

The People’s Republic of China has always been committed to building stable, predictable and constructive Sino-US relations and hopes that the US side will work with China to implement the consensus reached by the two countries and jointly promote the healthy and stable development of the relationship between the two countries and their respective militaries.

Kissinger replied that he was there as a friend of China, but that at the same time challenges and opportunities coexisted in today’s world: the USA and China should eliminate misunderstandings, coexist peacefully and avoid confrontation.

Kissinger emphasised: “History and practice have continually proved that neither the United States of America nor the People’s Republic of China can afford to treat the other as an adversary. If the two countries go to war, they will bring no meaningful results to their peoples”.

Kissinger reiterated that understanding and managing US-China relations – especially the reversal of the current difficult situation – requires broad-minded thinking, as well as historical and philosophical speculation. It is necessary for both sides to show wisdom, work together, and develop jointly. The two armies should strengthen communication and do their best for the development of bilateral relations to achieve positive results and safeguard world peace and stability.

Dr. Qian Yaxu from the Centre for Regional and National Studies at Southwest Jiaotong University in China said in an interview with the Russian Satellite News Agency that in the meeting with Defence Minister Li Shangfu, the statement made by Kissinger voiced the views of some US opposition politicians.

In the talks between Kissinger and Xi Jinping, also the Russia-Ukraine war was certainly discussed, as Kissinger – avoiding the pro-Zelensky political correctness of white arms-exporting governments – has his own clear stance held at the Davos Forum in January 2023.

Kissinger’s first nonconformist and counter-cultural statement is that Russia is Europe and that it is a mistake to make it turn to Asia. This has been the case ever since Tsar Peter I made the decision in the early 18th century to prioritise its westward expansion by developing naval capacity and the European educational, cultural and military model, and defeating Sweden, which was his most important adversary in the West.

Since then, although Russia is a geographically Eurasian power, the centre of gravity of its conflicts has been in the West, with a few exceptions, such as the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1906). History has shown that the attempted invasions of Russia by the Teutonic Order – in the 13th century, defeated by St. Aleksander Nevsky – by Sweden (in the 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th centuries), by Napoleon (in the 19th century), and by Germany in the two World Wars of the 20th century, gave Russia a good understanding of its European enemies, especially in the relevant roles played in resolving the conflict. According to Kissinger, this situation has not changed and it would be a mistake to isolate Russia from Europe, thus making it turn to Asia.

This implies accepting that – for Russia’s geopolitical vision – the former Soviet Republics such as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania (the Baltic States) and Belarus, Ukraine (outside or one day inside NATO) and Moldova, are an area of strategic interest that plays a relevant role between Russia and Central & Western Europe: a desired future buffer zone of stability.

Within this view, finding forms of coexistence on the European continent becomes the key to intra-Western security.

From this perspective, NATO’s aim – in Kissinger’s view – would be to prevent war and not to wage it. On the contrary, the current intention of both the United States and the European Union – and, we might add, of the various colonies with economic giants, political dwarfs and military maggots at the helm – to put an end to Russia’s power, by taking away its war capability, is explicit. This is the kind of situation that Russia’s current security doctrine considers a “risk to the existence of the Russian State” as History showed in 782 years.

Kissinger also argued the need to avoid pushing Russia into an alliance with the People’ Republic of China. President Biden’s recent trip (May 2023) to Japan and South Korea – two key US allies in the Indo-Pacific region – exemplified this risk with hard facts. Military aircraft from Russia and the People’s Republic of China jointly patrolled Taiwan, in clear response to the significance of the provocative visit by the unstable US President, who put forward more than his country’s traditional position in terms of military support for Taiwan in the event of an attack, despite the aforementioned formal US position in the 1972 Shanghai Communiqué.

As far as the European Union is concerned, it is only a warehouse for arms sales.