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‘On China,’ Henry Kissinger on NPR by Neal Conan and Ted Koppel

Full transcript here. Also check out Allen‘s book review. Audio recording accessible through here. Kissinger’s warnings to us all must be repeated, in his answer to Conan’s following question:

CONAN: We just have a couple of minutes left. I wanted to ask you, finally, about a – something you wrote in a Washington Post op-ed just as the U.S.-China summit began in January. President Obama and Premiere Hu face an opinion among elites in their country that emphasizes conflict rather than cooperation, conflict rather than cooperation. Is the future going to be then dominated by those elite?

KISSINGER: Well, I hope that the elites will come to the realization that conflict between countries of this magnitude and of this impact will be catastrophic for the world.

I’ve often asked myself, what would have happened if, say, in 1910, the leaders of Europe had known what the world would look like in 1919, after four years of World War I. Would they have gotten into war or would they have try to find some means of settling the disputes that led to war and which had written out of a consciousness and a belief that conflict was the inevitable nature of foreign policy? And I’d say this as somebody who started on international relations by studying strategy and who is generally considered a defense hawk and maybe even a hardliner.

But the world that we are facing now obliges us to try to avoid sliding interest. And that is what my book was about and that’s some of the technical details.

  1. Charles Liu
    June 8th, 2011 at 23:44 | #1

    I’m not even sure how valid Neal Conan’s question is – who are the elites in China that advocate conflict? In what position are they in line to dominate?

  2. raventhorn2000
    June 9th, 2011 at 05:20 | #2

    I agree with Charles,

    Refusal to “cooperate” is not the same as advocating conflict, especially when Western powers see only “cooperation” as getting their ways in China.

    That doesn’t sound like “cooperation”, sounds more like total submission.

    No, China will not and should not “cooperate” with US the way that countries like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Pakistan have “cooperated” with US. (Many of these nations are regretting it now).

  3. June 9th, 2011 at 11:19 | #3

    Earlier this year, we blogged about the specific Op-Ed Conan referred:

    Henry A. Kissinger: “Avoiding a U.S.-China cold war”

    Charles – you commented back then in the U.S. side we have the military-industrial-MEDIA-complex.

    I think there is no guarantee that China won’t have this same phenomenon over time – a military-industrial-MEDIA-complex of her own.

    If we accept Kissinger’s words relating to China as ‘truth,’ then I feel there is real credence to his observation there are elites in China. Afterall, he seems well entrenched in China.

    The difference, as you guys correctly pointed out, the U.S.’s definition of ‘cooperation’ often means do things the U.S. wants. The U.S. can do that because she’s so dominant right now.

    Which party is more unfair aside, I think Kissinger’s warning stands valid.

  4. raventhorn2000
    June 9th, 2011 at 11:48 | #4

    My 1 problem with Kissinger (and even other old “China hands”) is that they still look at China somewhat with Western view point.

    One main Western historical assumption is that as nations rise or decline in power, there is a greater risk of conflicts between rival powers, such as conflict between Britain and Germany, or Japan’s conflict with US.

    That assumption is not as universally true as they may think it to be.

    I gave the counter example simply in China. China had a long history of rising and declining when it did NOT go into the kind of world shattering conflicts as Western nations did. China’s dynastic rises and declines often did not make much ripple in Asia, since new Chinese dynastic powers were merely interested in preserving its “traditional sphere” of influence.

    Again, this has to do with China’s tradition of slow expansion without the overt tone of religious/cultural/political indoctrination/crusade.

    Kissinger himself acknowledged as much in his own book, that China did not rise to power through ideological zealotry.

    “Elites” in China advocating “conflict”? That sounds exactly opposite of Kissinger’s own observation, that somehow now China has groups of leaders who ARE ideological zealots bent on asserting a Chinese world view (with a dominant China) in a conflict with the West.

    No. Chinese leaders have the same non-ideological view that China can have its own way, and the West can have their own ways. Not negotiating the differences doesn’t mean a show down to “1 winner takes all”.

    That’s not conflict, that’s Multipolarism.

  5. June 9th, 2011 at 13:25 | #5

    We should look into who Kissinger thinks are the ‘elites’ in China right now who are supposedly or are most likely to play the type of games the U.S. military industrial complex is playing.

    Allow me to play the devils advocate a bit further. What about this argument that China has had a long continuing civilization – and as Kissinger implies – powerful enough such that even the conquerors upon usurping China then subsequenlty taking on this ‘Chinese Middle Kindom’ view. China always arrogantly thought distant land beyond her borders were barbaric and inferior.

    For this reason, China did not venture very far.

    On the other hand, the Europeans were at each other’s throats throughout their history. They went very far during the Crusades. The reality for them were that might is right and they all competed for resources afar to build their empires.

    They were the first to industrialize and hence catapulted ahead.

    China now with technology has the means to do what the Europeans (and subsequently the Americans) did. Granted, I completely agree China’s foreign policy is much more peaceful than the U.S.’.

    When America surged ahead of Britain, America was viewed as the “imperialist of the imperialists.” America was hated by the Europeans for taking over their colonies around the globe. Or for kicking the Europeans out.

    It is not hard to believe some things could have happened prior to WW1 such that the factions were grouped differently.

    I don’t think it is possible for China to assure any other country that she will be peaceful forever. Nobody can make that kind of guarantee. The West will never accept any argument towards that. Neither will China if the West does it.

    I wished Kissinger argued for a strong world body and that the U.S. won’t be able to so easily undermine the U.N.. Simply asking governments to restrain various elements within their society, while crucial, is still not good enough in my opinion.

  6. Charles Liu
    June 9th, 2011 at 19:58 | #6

    okay, maybe it’s just something not well know outside China. I’ll admit I have no idea who anybody is in China that’s “groomed” or “heir-appearant”. I do know power succession in China has been very orderly since Deng, and I would not be suprised people in the know like Mr. Kissinger would be familiar.

    So who are these people? Maybe there’s clues out there. Same thing with US, who knew after 9/11 those hawks at AEI would be allowed to surround GW Bush and proceed to cause conflict for the next 15 years? Maybe there were people in the know, but most Americans were like me, clueless (had I known I would’ve put money in the slumping oil stocks back then.)

    Comparatively, how has the western protrail of Wen Jiabao being a hardliner during his Tibet days have panned out?

  7. Shylock
    June 10th, 2011 at 10:49 | #7

    Surly opinions from Kissinger cannot be taken to heart. After all, this is a man who is considered by many a war criminal and conspirator to murder; i.e. illegal bombings in Cambodia and coup d’etat in Chile during the 1970’s.


  8. June 11th, 2011 at 01:21 | #8

    @Shylock #7,

    Did you intend your comment to be an ad homenim or a substantive criticism of Kissenger’s views?

  9. Shylock
    June 11th, 2011 at 12:53 | #9


    Neither! My comment is a reminder of the man’s legacy and credibility.

  10. June 11th, 2011 at 21:36 | #10

    @Shylock #9,

    Well, now you are going way out of the scope of this thread…

    I don’t know if I am needed to defend Kissinger. But – just to follow through with your logic – if Kissenger – Nobel Peace Prize winner to boot – is a war criminal, then so are, in my humble opinion, most recent American leaders – including our current esteemed Nobel Peace Prize Laureate President Obama.

    But even with that said though, I wouldn’t go so far as saying nothing Obama says can be “taken to heart”…

    By the way, I am against the politicization of notions of human rights, genocide, crimes against humanity, etc. (See http://blog.hiddenharmonies.org/2009/01/on-the-mind-numbing-sensationalistic-use-of-emotionally-charged-words-in-international-politics/).

    War is hell. Let’s not politicize it too much into “legality” and “illegality” as it’s equivalent to some sort of normative morality. Legality under today’s sytem is more a result of power play than anything else.

    And in general, while many things in history should be remembered, they should not be trivialized into lessons of good vs. bad.

  11. pug_ster
    June 13th, 2011 at 08:37 | #11

    People like Kissinger and Koppel focused on the Western and not the Chinese point of view. Like Shylock says, Kissinger is not exactly a saint considering what he did to Cambodia and Chile. Kissinger ‘normalized’ relations with China not because of China’s benefit, but because they can use China to be a splinter against the Soviet Union and eventually ‘democratize’ them. When the US realize that they could not be ‘democratized’ in the 1989 protests, they slapped sanctions and considered them an ideological enemy ever since.

    Ted Koppel seems on the looney fringe too when he drilled Kissinger on why he decided to normalize relations in the first place too when he doesn’t want to say the obvious answer. Instead he berated Kissinger on Mao why he starved 40 million people to death in the great leap forward. Not even once they mentioned that there was a severe drought at the time that was the primary cause.

  12. raventhorn2000
    June 16th, 2011 at 06:43 | #12

    I think Kissinger has a glimmer of the Chinese point of view, but he knows realistically the West can’t admit to the wisdom of the Chinese point of view.

    Such an admission would be tantamount to admission that the last 200 years of US history will likely result in either meaninglessness or eventual defeat.

    Kissinger said in an interview with Times Magazine,

    “US with its short 200 years of history considers all problems to be soluable. We see problems and we try to solve them. The Chinese with their long history do not consider problems to be soluable. They see every solution as an admission ticket to more problems. That’s the psychology. I make no value judgments.”

    If you read between the lines of his answer, you can see that he does think that the Chinese view is wiser, but he can’t admit it openly.

  13. June 16th, 2011 at 10:30 | #13

    Really good point.

    Kissinger is good at speaking about issues in a much less confrontational tone while able to insist on the major thesis of U.S. ideologies (as pretext to advance U.S. national goals).

    For example, he said that he felt “conflicted” during the 1989 Tiananmen crack down, implying Deng should have allowed the protest to escalate or precipitate into more reforms. But I am sure he understands stability is necessary for reforms to move forward, and indeed that was how things panned which he cannot deny.

    Nevertheless, knowing that ‘truth,’ his overall evaluation of the 1989 crack down is still ‘wrong.’

    But to his credit, his language and tone is that of respect for others perspectives, and I think that’s why the Chinese leaders find him credible.

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