<HTML><HEAD> <META name=GENERATOR content="MSHTML 8.00.6001.19019"></HEAD> <BODY><FONT size=3><STRONG>One final word?</STRONG></FONT> <BR><I><B>On China</B></I> by <B>Henry Kissinger</B> <BR><BR>Reviewed by Benjamin A Shobert <BR><BR>It is fitting that towards the end of his life, Henry Kissinger would return to the subject of what may be his greatest foreign policy achievement: the coordinated opening of China during his time in the Richard Nixon administration. <BR><BR>While the policies he advocated for during the Vietnam War remain deeply contentious, the role he played in triangulating China, the Soviet Union and the United States is regarded as one of the most masterful foreign policy achievements in the past 50 years. As national security adviser, Kissinger's clandestine trip to China in 1971 paved the way for president Richard Nixon to meet Mao Zedong in Beijing and the normalization of relations. His first-person recollection of the events which surrounded this achievement is now presented in his most recent book, <I>On China</I>. <BR>Together with Nixon, Kissinger set in motion a process that would lead to China replacing the Soviet Union as the nation most Americans remain increasingly suspicious of, and in some circles, a country whose aspirations are feared. Kissinger could not have foreseen that China's rise would be both so quick and present such a threat to America's peace of mind in the 21st Century. <BR><BR>Yet many readers of <I>On China</I> will confuse American domestic policy mistakes for errors of diplomacy on Kissinger's part: it was his role to facilitate a peaceful opening, and it was the politicians' jobs to ensure that China's entry into the world's economy was handled in such a way as to minimize the economic dislocation of American workers. <BR><BR><IMG hspace=6 alt="" vspace=2 align=right src="ctsbook020911.gif"> The benefits of hindsight might suggest a more gradual engagement with China, one requiring more changes made more quickly by China in order to do business with the West, but these were policy matters long after Kissinger had led the process through its most delicate stage. <BR><BR>While Kissinger dedicates a good part of the early book towards educating his readers on China's history, he does this largely to set the stage for how he viewed China then, and how he views China now: as a country we can and should do business with, and a country whose desire to expand its power is both understandable and trustworthy. <BR><BR>To Kissinger, China's leaders have too many domestic challenges for them to mount a real international strategic threat of the sort many in Washington suspect. As he writes, "The crucial competition between the United States and China is more likely to be economic and social than military." Simply put, many critics of Kissinger and of <I>On China</I> view this as naive. <BR><BR>To them, China's ongoing attachment to authoritarian rule shows a country willing to use free markets and the promise of political liberalization as means of achieving their ends of ongoing rule and regional hegemony. On these points, Kissinger would likely agree with the first, but would suggest that while ongoing rule and political stability are to outsiders the same thing, to a Chinese government and its people who are both deeply fearful of domestic turmoil, they remain worthy goals. <BR><BR>This is where Kissinger's recounting of China's recent history - its civil war, domestic turmoil and national humiliation - becomes a necessary piece of the foundation his policy of engagement and real politics has been built. This step is equally important to ensure that Kissinger can make his most important point - and one that is not reliant purely on history for its relevance: Kissinger believes that China's unstable past points towards the reason it can be trusted to focus first and foremost on its own domestic needs before entertaining any ideology of expansion and regional hegemony. <BR><BR>As he writes: "Both societies believe they represent unique values. American exceptionalism is missionary. It holds that the United States has an obligation to spread its values to every part of the world. China's exceptionalism is cultural. China does not proselytize; it does not claim that its contemporary institutions are relevant outside China." <BR><BR>This latter assertion, that China holds no idea about its own "contemporary institutions [being] relevant outside China" will likely prove to be particularly contentious. <BR><BR>While it is certainly possible that Kissinger is right, and that his point about China's use of outward-oriented communication like that of the rapidly expanding Xinhua news agency or the profligate Confucius Institutes constitute only a desire to be understood, or to as he suggests export China's cultural values only, to suggest these efforts are not missionary-like is to confuse tactics for strategy. <BR><BR>His claim may be entirely accurate, and perhaps these steps should be understood purely as efforts on China's part to be understood; but <I>On China</I> goes somewhat further than this more limited point. <BR><BR>In this way, Kissinger seems predisposed - as one might expect any great diplomatic mind to be - with the idea of his Chinese counterparts grasp of strategy. Throughout the book, the high acclaim with which he clearly holds Zhou Enlai and Mao Zedong as well as much of China's bureaucratic class, gives them more credit than their critics will appreciate. For Kissinger, understanding China requires an understanding and appreciation of their great strategy game <I>wei qi</I>. <BR><BR>Mastery of this game requires the winning player to act in a disciplined manner with the focus always on the long-term. It is a game designed to reward the strategic and punish the tactical. Throughout <I>On China</I>, Kissinger makes reference to <I>wei qi</I> as a sign of the insight Chinese leaders then brought, and today understand equally well, when negotiating with their Western counterparts. <BR><BR>And in some sense, Kissinger may be right: it may well be that China's centrally controlled economy and political institutions offer longer-term horizons on key decisions the country must make, horizons which are beyond those afforded governments in the democratic West. <BR><BR>But an infatuation with <I>wei qi</I> overlooks the enormous errors from the Chinese leaders Kissinger encountered: it was no great mastery of Chinese culture or ideology to see the Great Leap Forward to its ignominious end. Nor was it the silent and masterful hand of a <I>wei qi</I> master to watch the Cultural Revolution tear down the last bits of Chinese dignity and self-sufficiency. <BR><BR>These were strategic errors of the first order, the sort made by the <I>wei qi</I> pupil and not the master, and it may well be that China's current leaders is making similar errors by its ongoing suppression of dissent and inconsistent use of the free market. <BR><BR>Yet Kissinger's broader points about the great good that has already come through engaging China - both for Chinese and Americans - is well made. We live in a world of Kissinger's making - for good and for ill. And it is towards the end of <I>On China</I> that we stop getting a history of where relations between the two countries have come from, and his vision of where it could go. <BR><BR>While his aged and experienced eyes still see the potential for partnership, he harbors no illusions as to the very real potential for the two countries to find conflict the easier path. Yet his belief is that those who see conflict as inevitable lack the sort of creative vision of what could be instead of dystopian vision of the world as it has already been: "... Historical parallels are by nature inexact. And even the most precise analogy does not oblige the present generation to repeat the mistakes of its predecessors ... A serious joint effort involving the continuous attention of top leaders is needed to develop a sense of genuine strategic trust and cooperation." <BR><BR>He then goes on to write that while "... Consensus may prove difficult, but confrontation on these issues is self-defeating." <BR><BR>Towards the end of his book, Kissinger wants to remind his American readers that "... The United States bears the responsibility to retain its competitiveness and its world role. It should do this for its own traditional convictions, rather than as a contest with China." <BR><BR>This easily focuses the readers of <I>On China</I> on the question Kissinger is easily the least qualified to answer: how will a generation of economically frustrated Americans view China? While Kissinger's hope for pragmatic foreign policy engagement has gotten us this far, it may be the dark side of American politics, which makes going any further with China impossible. <BR><BR><I>On China</I> by Henry Kissinger. Penguin Press HC, 1 edition (May 17, 2011), ISBN-10: 1594202710. Price US$ 36, 608 pages. <BR><BR><I>Benjamin A Shobert is the managing director of Teleos Inc (www.teleos-inc.com), a consulting firm dedicated to helping Asian businesses bring innovative technologies into the North American market.</I></BODY></HTML>