June 13th, 2011
09:40 AM ET

Kissinger: China poses 'big challenge' for U.S.

Given China's increasing power and economic security, dealing with the Communist nation poses a "big challenge" for the United States, former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said Sunday.

Kissinger was national security adviser in President Richard Nixon's administration, and almost 40 years ago he made a secret trip to confer with the Chinese, a voyage that paved the way for the normalization of relations between Washington and Communist China. He recently has written a book, "On China," and appeared Sunday on CNN's "Fareed Zakaria GPS."

Asked whether he had any inkling four decades ago that China would become the global power it is today, competing with the United States economically and technologically, Kissinger said, "It would have been inconceivable. Nobody had any such perception or expectation."

Since those talks, relations between China and the United States have remained stable, Zakaria noted. In recent years, China has tried to get America's help in modernizing its economy, tacitly supporting a lot of U.S. foreign policy, Zakaria said. But some believe that may be changing now and that a new chapter of Chinese foreign policy may be beginning.

"There are elements in China who, particularly after the financial crisis, feel that there has been a fundamental shift in the balance of power and that the international conduct of China and the results of its conduct should reflect this," Kissinger said. "But one shouldn't think that all of this is America's fault, because the Chinese - we have been dominant in the last 50 years - they've been dominant in 1,800 of the last 2,000 years.

"And you know, I think America is entering a world in which we are neither dominant nor can we withdraw, but we are still the most powerful country," he said. "So how to conduct ourselves in such a world - it's a huge test for us. And China is the most closely approximate country in terms of power. And one with such a complex history. It's a big challenge."

Another Cold War is not the answer, he said, as that "would lead to confrontations over an extended period of time that would be draining to both societies and draining to the countries that have to deal with both societies."

President Barack Obama's approach to China is "fundamentally correct," said Kissinger, who served as secretary of state under Presidents Nixon and Gerald Ford. "What we fundamentally need with the Chinese is to come to an understanding of where we both think we are going.

"And I believe the best thing that Nixon did, that we did in the Nixon administration, was not that we were super skillful on practical problems, but we were willing to spend many hours explaining how we thought in middle- and long-run terms, and so did the Chinese."

While that didn't help on the actual day of the conversation, "when something came up, you could have some feeling that the other side, when it was reported to them, would have a framework within which to interpret it," he said. "This is still not adequately done."

Asked whether he is reluctant to criticize China more publicly on its human rights record, Kissinger said, "I'm not reluctant at all. And I insist on affirming my preference for democracy and my rejection of autocratic and dictatorial institutions. At the same time, there are a number of people, very few, who have, over a period of decades, established the confidence of the Chinese leadership. And we think that we are in a better position to bring about the achievement of these objectives by using influence in such a way that there is no demonstrated victor or loser.

"I have said that when I engage myself in China, as I do periodically on individual cases, I do not do it in a public confrontation, but in a personal dialogue. That is really the nature of the disagreement. It is not a disagreement as to the importance of the objective," he said.

On whether he thinks Obama is "Kissingerian," Kissinger - who endorsed Republican candidate Sen. John McCain in the 2008 election - said, "My impression of Obama is that he would like to believe that you can sweep the world by the power of ideas, and that the ideas alone will dominate the world, and that you can ignore the equilibrium part of the equality, and that you can do it with rhetoric. ... That's what he'd like to believe."

But Obama, he said, is also "a good mind. And so he looks at the world and sees what's actually happening. So when he speaks, he often sounds as if he were in the world of ideas alone. When he acts, he is very conscious of reality. I think he's basically very close, if I put his actions together, to the objectives that I affirm."

Obama, he said, may view his remarks as "a private compliment, but he will not want to advertise it."

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Topics: China • United States

soundoff (57 Responses)
  1. GQ

    That's not what Kissinger means to express in his book. Stupid CNN.

    June 16, 2011 at 9:33 am |
  2. jeff

    I believe that history will remember the silence of Western leaders and news outlets. Through their policies of free trade with Communist China, they have continued to lavish rewards upon the communists, dictators, tyrants and thugs who oppress China. With their deliberate blind eye for this persecution, they have brought shame to a Western world that once vowed, "Never again" in the face of genocide.

    Let me be clear. Their China policy is no better than "leaving the Jews in the gas chambers." Their China policy is one of moral cowardice, and reveals craven indifference to human suffering. Western China policy is akin to a crime against humanity of its very own.

    People forget exactly what the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) truly is. A brutal regime that has murdered 80 million of its own people since 1949 and is concerned with nothing but its own survival.No human rights whatsoever and an enemy of the free world. The only reason any country is dealing with the cruel CCP is corporate greed. The same corporate greed that censors our own media from telling us the truth about the CCP. To learn more facts one may go on line and read The Nine Commentaries. Thank you for your consideration.

    June 17, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
  3. Jamie Napier

    America only had the number 1 spot for less than 100 years and are now far from a democracy.China was the technological leader of the world untill the 14th centery.The reason for the change in dominance was the fact they didn't have a workable alphabetand the influences of Confucianism and Daoism.Also the propensity of each succeeding dynasty to eradicate all traces of the one that came before it.Witch resulted in ideological stagnation and cultural amnesia.A jesuit missionary displaying a clock amazed the Chinese npot nowing that they themselfs had invented it 1000 years before.Also people are told and think the bible was the most printed book but not so.The book printed the most was Quotations from Chairman Mao,or the littel red book was printed the most with a number 7,000,000,000 I think that 700 billion books that at one time every citizen of China always had one with them.China does have probl;ems but there is 1 and a half billion peop[le more than 10 times Americas population.Really they will be returning to the spot they held before America was ever thought of.And I'm sure they won't travil the world forcing them to live how they tell them.They will have learnt from history unlike America.Really they just have to look at America over the past 60 years and have a map how not to do things.They will never sell there people out like America has done for Israel.Obviously the people running America are not that smart to let Israel use them like the zionist jews did to russia.Thats somthing China has seen over and over a are not stupid were they will let it happen to them.Why be scared of China I say congrats now its Americas turn to watch what made them great and learn from it.No country will ever rule thew entire world without continual war.And thats not a way to live as America is now seeing.I'm Canadianm and just want Canada to stay out of Americas Illegal wars.By the way Kissinger is a killar that kills men,women,and children.But he probably never did it himself he got some kid to do it that one day will have to awnser for it but so will Kissinger.Bush was going to have him head thje 9/11 commision report.That was a joke but the hole report turned out to be a joke.

    June 17, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
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