Kissinger is convinced that China must be dealt with through
One would hope that Henry Kissinger's new 530-page book On China
would produce some news, something startling.
But the story of Nixon's opening to China, the meetings with Mao
Zedong, and the ensuing ups and downs in US-China relations are now
familiar to those who have followed the relationship. One is left
wondering if the book could not have been made shorter and better-
Acting as President Nixon's national security advisor, Kissinger
made his first, secret trip to China in late 1971 to set the stage
for Nixon's ground-breaking visit to the country in early 1972. In
the 40 years that followed, Kissinger visited China more than 50
times. He had unparalleled access to several Chinese leaders - from
Mao to Hua Guofeng, Deng Xiaoping, and Jiang Zemin.
"On China" is based largely on the former secretary of state's
transcripts of talks with those leaders and his analysis of Chinese
culture and its impact on Chinese foreign policy. He's convinced
that China must be dealt with through compromise, cannot be
pressured on human rights, and must be understood in terms of a
lasting feeling on the part of the Chinese that they were humiliated
by Western powers during the latter half of the 19th century and
into the 20th.
In Kissinger's view, China, though it does see itself as
exceptional, does not proselytize or claim that its institutions are
relevant outside China. American "exceptionalism," in contrast, is
missionary, as Kissinger describes it. Americans believe in
internationally recognized universal values, such as freedom and
human rights. He argues that in order to reduce human rights
violations in China, the US must engage the Chinese Communist Party
and not confront it: "Once enough confidence has been established,
changes in civil practice can be advocated in the name of common
purpose or at least the preservation of a common interest."
When it comes to the Chinese army's bloody Tiananmen crackdown on
unarmed protesters in June 1989, however, Kissinger stops short of
condemning the action. He explains that for Deng Xiaoping, the
paramount leader at the time, the Tiananmen protests "stirred the
historical Chinese fear of chaos and memories of the Cultural
Revolution - whatever the stated goals of the demonstrators."
Kissinger then goes on to state that "This is not the place to
examine the events that led to the tragedy at Tiananmen Square; each
side has its different perspectives depending on the various, often
conflicting, origins of their participation in the crisis." The
closest he gets to a condemnation of the massacre is to acknowledge
that the suppression was "harsh."
Kissinger also says that given its cultural background, China has
historically not sought to impose its values on others. But this is
not at all the case today. One need only look at the colonial
aspects of China's repressive actions in Tibet and Xinjiang, where
Beijing is imposing its own institutions, controlling monasteries
and mosques, and mandating the teaching of the Chinese language to
the detriment of the local languages.
Toward the end of the book, Kissinger offers some prescriptions
for how the US and China can work together to maintain a stable,
peaceful Asia. …