Kissinger On China

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, Henry Kissinger, former U.S. Secretary of State and National Security Adviser talks about his secret trips to China under President Nixon and his new book,  On China, examining Chinese foreign policy.

Did the secret trips work?

Kissinger maintains that they were successful in terms of giving the U.S. negotiating leverage during the Cold War.

Within about six weeks of the first trip to China the Soviet Union's demeanor towards the United States changed totally, partly because they now wanted to isolate China and try to get into a position in which they had better access in Washington, and that put us into the situation where we could conduct foreign policy with two communist super policies in such a way that we were closer to each of them than to each other.

Was Kissinger too soft on China?

Kissinger has critics who say his negotiations with China legitimized a regime that killed tens of millions of its own people.  Kissinger dismissed this notion, saying that it comes from people who have changed their tune with forty years of retrospect.

The general criticism made of the Nixon administration was that its foreign policy was too tough, not that it was too soft. Secondly the foreign policy of the Nixon administration was systematically to undermine the satellite orbit...There was not one dramatic speech saying 'tear down the wall' but there was no question that we were systematically seeking to weaken the Soviet position.

China needed to be brought into the international system if one was going to have progress towards peace, Kissinger said. He added that idea of adding a confrontation with China to a crisis in Vietnam is something that's easy to say in 2011, but it was not thoughtful policy then.

Should the U.S. fear China now?

Kissinger said China is developing economically in an extraordinary way, but also has enormous domestic problems.

We should certainly understand that China has the potential to aspire to the dominance of Asia. We also should attempt to bring about a situation in which this does not lead to another series of conflicts. But we should certainly be aware of the potential of China and understand that we are in a competitive situation.

It's a strange dilemma that China owns so much U.S. debt, Kissinger said. But the U.S. also holds a lot of power in the situation, he said, because if China tries to exploit their position of creditor they will lose the export markets from which their advantage arises.

K's Advice for elected officials

I basically believe that societies grow and become great not by their conflicts but by their reconciliations. And I'm hoping that at some point the leadership of both parties will agree not just on what concessions they need to make but what picture of America they want to support. Whether that takes another Presidential election or two, but at the end of the day that's what America needs to come to.

Does competition from China mean the U.S. middle class is doomed to shrink?

Kissinger said he hopes not, but we shouldn't blame everything on China either. He says there's a fundamental difference in the board game of the world now than there was at the end of WWII, or even at the end of the 20th century.

We have to learn which problems are caused by us and which problems are caused by others. If we blame everything on others then we think we can just sit back and let some kind of conflict take care of it. I think China is a problem but it isn't China alone. It is the rise of countries like India, Brazil, China, it's that the underrepresented countries are beginning to represent a greater market in the world.

He said the U.S. needs to re-industrialize, and the decline of our industrial base will potentially lead to a jobless recovery.

The real art of foreign policy

Kissinger says the real skill is to find the balance between equilibrium and justice and legitimacy. Power has a role and a sense of justice has a role, but one shouldn't go too far in either direction.

As a student of history, as someone who lived in a dictatorship and therefore has no desire to see a dictatorship anywhere, who lived in a dictatorship as a persecuted minority, my study of history tells me this: You can not have peace in the world without a certain equilibrium of power. Because if you don't have equilibrium then the ruthless and powerful can do whatever they want. Secondly, you cannot have equilibrium unless most people feel that the arrangements are just, because otherwise they have no interest in sustaining it.

The problem with performing the art of foreign policy, Kissinger said, is that no one feels that you're completely on their side.  Kissinger claims he has spent his life trying to promote peace, even as he has been viciously attacked by the left and the right.


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Comments [21]

Vic from .

Mao was no Hitler.
The death of so many poor Chinese was not a systematic goal. It was not a, "Final Solution", & not all a, "Rectification of Names".
The mechanism was, "Hearts & Minds" ~ "Hands & Feet". It was a historic, cultural revolution which miserably failed in starvation & want.

Jul. 06 2011 04:16 PM

one of the finest kissinger interviews. bravo.

Jul. 05 2011 11:05 PM

i second that
it's the 'why they hate us' that we in the states never understand

Jul. 05 2011 03:33 PM

Why wasn’t Mr Kissinger confuted as he tried to take the audience thru the looking glass by floating his absurd pretense that the wisdom of supporting the Shah, despite his dictatorial governance, was proved by the virulent antiAmerican theocracy that erupted after the Shah was overthrown, whereas, patently, to put the cart back behind the horse, that antiAmerican aftermath was caused precisely by our support of the Shah (going back to the CIA coup that killed Mossadegh and put the Shah in power)?

Jul. 05 2011 12:26 PM
john smith from nyc

he will be judged soon by his maker.
lets hope he get's a fair trial. and a fair punishment.

Jul. 05 2011 12:12 PM
john dante from new york

What a disappointing interview. How can you not ask him about Chile, East Timor, Cambodia and all the other well-documented policy failures and human rights atrocities of which he was the author or a co-author? I noticed that when he was asked a question about Vietnam he said he had passed his time limit and had to go, but that when asked a question about his childhood he suddenly found time for self-promotion. I hope his obituaries will be more balanced.

Jul. 05 2011 11:55 AM
Josh Karan from Washington Heights NYC

How tragic, that someone who experienced the horrors of Naziism, with its brutalization of people, came to believe that the best way of combatting such behavior was to establish a countervailing power which would similarly attempt to impose its will by force, no matter how many (agreeably fewer, but still millions) of lives were destroyed.

We must both search for a different way, and hold all people accountable for their impact on others.

Jul. 05 2011 11:51 AM
john smith from nyc

US bringing up human rights with China after killing 1,000,000 Iraqis? WMD's?? what world are we living in ???

Jul. 05 2011 11:43 AM
meesh from queens

notice how much Kissinger insists on defending his war crimes.

Jul. 05 2011 11:40 AM
DarkSymbolist from NYC!

"We don't need to go over that"?

Ummm...why the hell not?

A war criminal discussing human ironic.

Jul. 05 2011 11:37 AM
These Questions

Every breath sounds like his last... will BL Show make history today?

Jul. 05 2011 11:36 AM
tom from long island city

Promoting his book a second time on WNYC? Smart publicist ( I like how he doesn't know how Germany does it , though he brought it up)

Jul. 05 2011 11:32 AM

"Reindustrialization of US" -- Outsourcers of Industrial business from the US to China was initially accomplished not because of cheap labor but because of a lack of ENVIRONMENTAL laws there. As an Asia based business correspondent in the 90s I met these multinational industrialists and observed their actions first hand. For America to reconstitute its industrial base, it would first need to find a way to make things without causing pollution. China's problem is that their country is now trashed. They can no longer drink their water or breath their air without dying. We don't have that problem yet -- thanks to outsourcing. A reindustrialized America that is sustainanable is one that has faced and solved existential problems that Bush and Obama have only sidestepped since 2000, and Clinton/Gore before them.

Jul. 05 2011 11:30 AM
Sophie from Poughkeepsie, NY

Lopate's interview was enough. This man has the most impossible unpleasant voice (politics aside).

Jul. 05 2011 11:27 AM
anna from NYC

I believe NOTHING that comes out of Kissinger's mouth. He is profiting from ALL sides.

Jul. 05 2011 11:25 AM
DarkSymbolist from NYC!

@ Josh

Yeah, apparently it's all in the vain of being "moderate" and presenting "all sides of the political spectrum."

Personally, I think if you don't draw a line somewhere then you have no standards at all and drawing the line at war criminals like Kissinger is probably a good place to start!

This man shouldn't be treated like a revered statesman, he should be treated like the war criminal he is.

Jul. 05 2011 11:23 AM

Lopate's admirable and quite satisfying interview w Henry recently:

Jul. 05 2011 11:21 AM
josh Karan from Washington Heights NYC

In The Trial of Henry Kissinger, author Christopher Hitchens documents how Kissinger personally approved bombing campaigns that resulted in thousands of civilian casualties as well as signing off on the use of the deadly chemical Agent Orange. United States General Telford Taylor, the former chief prosecuting officer at the Nuremberg trials, stated that Kissinger committed war crimes by giving the nod to bomb Vietnamese villages during the war.

Kissinger also was intimately involved in efforts to overthrown the democratically elected socialist government of Chile, under Salvador Allende.

Why do you give credibility to such a person by interviewing him as if he were a statesman?

Jul. 05 2011 11:16 AM
eugene Levenson from Freeport NY

Are there so few authors and political figures available that you are left to interview Dr Strangelove who orchestrated the Christmas carpet bombing of Vietnam and is wanted as a WAR CRIMINAL in many countries in Europe.
You now scraping the bottom of the Barrel
Brian-- Oy Veh.
Gene Levenson

Jul. 05 2011 11:13 AM
Hunkel from New Jersey

Hey Henry, Chile called. They miss you - why don't you go visit them?

Jul. 05 2011 11:13 AM

Ask him if he's seen the opera "Nixon in China." Julie Nixon Eisenhower reportedly loved it.

Jul. 05 2011 11:11 AM

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