Henry Kissinger's Diplomacy in the US-China Context

By Muhammad Asif Noor | Gwadar Pro Jul 31, 2023

Editor's Note: The writer is the Founder of Friends of BRI Forum and Advisor to Pakistan Research Center, Hebei Normal University, China. The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of Gwadar Pro.

The intricate relationship between China and the United States has been a matter of global attention, as both nations strive to navigate complex issues and improve their ties. In this context, the recent visit of a 100 years old former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to Beijing holds immense significance. Known for his pivotal role in normalizing US-China relations during the Cold War in the 1970s, Kissinger was warmly received in China, underscoring his elevated status in China despite controversies surrounding him in the US. This contrasted with the recent visits of other US officials, such as Special Presidential Envoy Senator John Kerry and US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.

In recent years, the US-China relationship has been characterized by heightened tensions. Kissinger's visit, even though conducted in a personal capacity, offers a unique opportunity for frank discussions on the aspirations of both nations from their bilateral relationship.  

The global impact of the US-China relationship cannot be understated. As two major powers grapple with their differences, their actions and decisions resonate globally, influencing geopolitics, trade, and regional dynamics. Striking a delicate balance between competition and cooperation is the core challenge for both nations as they navigate complex issues while avoiding escalation into conflict.

In light of this, the world closely watches the US and China as they shape the future of their relationship, knowing that the consequences extend far beyond their borders. Half a century later, Henry Kissinger's return to China presents an opportune moment to assess the dynamics of the diplomatic relationship between the two nations. As the Biden Administration seeks to defrost diplomatic ties with China, Kissinger's visit can offer valuable inputs to shape their China policy.

It is essential to contextualize this visit in the backdrop of multiple visits by Biden Administration officials earlier this year amidst heightened tensions. The core issues between the US and China encompass various economic and political matters with global implications. Economic differences range from trade barriers to the protection of sensitive information technology, while political disagreements involve conflicts over Taiwan and delimitation of maritime zones in the South China Sea. To address these issues and establish confidence-building measures, several high-ranking US officials visited China this year to communicate bilateral concerns and foster mutual understanding.

US normalization efforts may have limited objectives. Decoupling the US economy from China and operating in isolation, as the Capitalist block did during the Cold War, is unfeasible. Furthermore, amidst financial strains within the country, the US public and businessmen are less enthusiastic about political conflicts. The aim of normalization is to restore global stability in commerce and trade, rather than instigate fundamental changes in each party's core interests.

In contrast, China's demands for cooperation are minimalistic: mutual respect, peaceful coexistence, and win-win cooperation. This positions President Biden with an opportunity to make informed judgments and usher in a new era of peace in Asia. Respect for the One China policy, acknowledgment of Chinese maritime borders in the South China Sea, and removal of politically motivated trade barriers are crucial steps for the US to embrace this policy shift in Washington.

The prospects for stable US-China relations leading to healthy and stable development are higher if the US corrects its strategic judgment and acts rationally. The reality is that conflict between both powers is devoid of dividends and feasibility. Both the US and China cannot afford to treat each other as adversaries. Kissinger himself acknowledged that coercing, blocking, and containing China is practically impossible. Hence, both nations must respect each other's policy designs and work towards creating an environment for mutual coexistence. As the world is larger than the mutual accommodation of China and the USA, the implications of their relationship reach far beyond their borders.

Henry Kissinger's recent visit to China marks a critical juncture in the ongoing complexities of the US-China relationship. Amidst challenges and opportunities, the US and China must strike a delicate balance between competition and cooperation to foster stability and peace on the world stage.

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