Henry Kissinger, in a recent appearance on Charlie Rose, gave a masterclass on US-China relations at the occasion of President Hu's recent January 2011 visit to Washington.
Hu Jintao's time in Washington was not long enough to begin constructing a real relationship with Obama, but it did begin the process of redefining the Beijing-DC relationship while conveying the seriousness of the leaders' intentions. But the crucial part still lies ahead - meaningful follow-up is essential. And therein lies Barack Obama's challenge: to maintain consistent consultation with China not just on day-to-day matters, but on defining the overall direction of the partnership.
Some highlights of the interview:
"Facts of Life"
- The Chinese are not world dominators, but rather strategic thinkers requiring to be treated with due respect.
- China is rightful to exploit its strengths to increase its relative global power, economic position, and political weight. Its military development is natural and to be expected.
- In 25 years, China will be more powerful, but not the most powerful nation in world. Why? Its unheard of growth will be mitigated by its inherent development contradiction (highly-developed coasts vs. grossly undeveloped interior).
US Needs Attitude Adjustment
- As the US's relative dominance declines, "our duty as statesmen" is to understand that the world is full of countries capable of asserting their leadership. And certainly not to panic .
- The US should not give image of working to impede China's power. Instead, all US relationships should follow a pattern compatible with natural geopolitical growth and evolutions.
China and America's Shared Philosophical Challenges
- Need for larger strategic vision framework to guide their development and transforming roles in 21st Century
- Elites in both nations prefer more clashes than cooperation... (US fears Chinese world domination, no trust for China, believes they are taking advantage of US on technology transfer / China believes their turn to lead is now following centuries of humiliation, must seize on unprecedented moment of US vulnerability)
- ...but political leaders have come to realization of need for mutual cooperation
- Both seek appropriate balance between strength, domination, and cooperation vis-à-vis the other - neither wants to be too weak to be ineffective in negotiations, neither wants to dominate so thoroughly as to pose existential threat to other.
- A closer relationship with India is necessary for the very fact of India's existence, but it is important not to build this tie on the premise of curbing China's rise.
- Need for serious bilateral talks about where the world is headed over the next 3 years to make the Iranian nuke issue about broader strategic development rather than to allow the impression that the US is simply looking to dominate the region's energy to later use as a tool for blackmail.
- Importance of more Track 2 diplomatic work.
- The Chinese really believed that they stood to learn from the US on economic matters - Onset of crisis led to disillusionment and humiliation on the part of the US's staunchest Chinese advocates
- The crisis reduced US credibility on its currency demands in the eyes of the Chinese.
- To accomplish changes in the value of the yuan (which will increase China's unemployment and affect its exports), we need to create a mutual framework in which Beijing's contribution is changes to currency value and Washington's contribution is "x". The key is to avoid the appearance of China having capitulated.
To watch the full interview: Kissinger on Charlie Rose
- Amy Greene