Kissinger warns Biden on China

The architect of Richard Nixon’s rapprochement with Beijing warned that China is here to stay

US President Joe Biden should demonstrate some “Nixonian flexibility” and treat China with patience, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger has told Bloomberg. The elder statesman said that while Washington should work to contain Beijing’s influence, this “cannot be achieved through permanent confrontation.”

Speaking to Bloomberg in an interview published on Wednesday, Kissinger argued that “Biden and previous administrations have been too much influenced by the domestic aspects of the view of China,” and in their rush to oppose the growing power, wealth and influence of Beijing, have failed to grasp “the permanence of China.”

As President Richard Nixon’s secretary of state, Kissinger advocated diplomatic engagement with communist China to prevent it from aligning with the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Years of outreach culminated in a visit by Nixon to Beijing in 1972, after which China opened its economy to the West, paving the way for the country’s ascent to superpower status.

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While Kissinger may have facilitated China’s rise to power, the Trump and Biden administrations have sought to counter this rise. Trump accused Beijing of unfair trade practices and imposed stiff tariffs on Chinese imports, while the military listed “the [China] challenge in the Indo-Pacific” as its number one priority, a classification that remains unchanged under Biden.

Biden has also kept many of his predecessor’s tariffs in place, and has formed the AUKUS security pact with the UK and Australia and the Partners in the Blue Pacific (PBP) arrangement with Japan, Australia, New Zealand and the UK. Both alliances – AUKUS, a formal security pact, and the PBP, a more informal arrangement – are aimed at countering Chinese influence in the Indo-Pacific region.

Biden remarked in May that the US would intervene militarily if China invaded Taiwan. Whether deliberate or accidental, his statement broke with the White House’s ‘One China’  policy, a 1972 communique drafted by Kissinger’s State Department that acknowledges, but does not endorse, China’s sovereignty over the island. 

Although Biden’s comments were downplayed by White House and State Department officials, they earned him a rebuke from Kissinger, who in an interview at the World Economic Forum’s annual gathering at the Swiss resort of Davos said that “Taiwan cannot be the core of the negotiations between China and the United States.”

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“The Taiwan issue will not disappear,” Kissinger continued. “As the direct subject of confrontation it is bound to lead to a situation that may mutate into the military field, which is against the world’s interest and against the long-term interest of China and the United States.”

“It is, of course, important to prevent Chinese or any other country’s hegemony,” Kissinger added in his comments to Bloomberg. However, he cautioned “that is not something that can be achieved by endless confrontations.”

Hours before the interview’s publication, the USS Benfold, a US Navy destroyer, sailed through the Taiwan Straits, having passed by Chinese-controlled islands in the South China Sea last week. Washington considers such voyages “freedom of navigation operations,” while Beijing views them as “provocations.”

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