The United States and China should cooperate to face the challenges of today's world, former US secretary of state Dr Henry A. Kissinger told 800-odd scholars and students in Beijing yesterday.
A new international system is what Kissinger was talking about when he said the two countries should cooperate to overcome the odds in the future world. His concept is based on Immanuel Kant's philosophy of peace and prosperity without human catastrophes.
Kissinger should know what he is talking about, for his visit to China in 1971 changed the face of international order. Some analysts believe Kissinger's historic visit to China set off a chain of events that transformed the old international order. The system that has existed for almost 300 years is becoming obsolete, according to him, because of today's fast changing world.
Kissinger's visit to China in 1971 was a secret mission that paved the way for diplomatic relations between Beijing and Washington after a lull of 20-odd years. On his first visit to China, he had the privilege of meeting then premier Zhou Enlai. "I prepared a speech in which there was only one sentence: 'Now I have arrived in this mysterious country'."
"What is so mysterious about China?" Kissinger quoted Zhou as having said. "There are 900 million of us and it's not mysterious to us." The former secretary of state said: "It was an important lesson for me."
Kissinger must have visited China dozens of times since that ice-breaking trip in 1971, and has seen the different phases of development in the country, Today, he is a household name in China, where he is known for his "courage and farsightedness", said scholar and board chairman of China Forum on Science and Humanity Zheng Bijian, who has invited him to speak in Beijing, mostly to future scientists.
In his keynote address at the Graduate School of the Chinese Academy of Sciences yesterday, Kissinger said: "Our future depends on (Sino-US) cooperation, and that's why I am so committed to the friendship between our two countries." The former secretary understands the meaning of friendship better than most politicians and diplomats across the world. His tireless efforts, along with those of other stalwarts', made the Shanghai Communiqu a reality 35 years ago. It "laid the political foundation for Sino-US relations," Zheng said.
"When we first encountered each other, we were concerned with the threats of the Cold War," Kissinger said about his meeting with Zhou. "When (Richard) Nixon met Chairman Mao (Zedong), the only subjects they discussed were important subjects," and they were able "to reflect the nature of the international system and how each side could contribute."
They were discussing a system based on the nation state at the time: "nations with an agricultural unit and political organization". It has existed for 300 years, mostly in Europe, with the Atlantic as its center. "The concept of balance of power prevails" by that order because there are many nations and because "different nations have political obligations defined by culture units". The seriousness and farsightedness of the Chinese leaders and academics in their quest for peace was "exemplary" throughout that period, he said.
But today that old international order is in the process of "fundamental changes, moving from the Atlantic, to the Pacific, with most of the key countries in Asia". In the last couple of decades, the US has become the only superpower "permanently involved in international affairs, making daily decisions that would affect its future".
In Europe, countries have given up "substantial attributes that make up nations" to form the European Union. "The idea of sovereignty on which the system was based from 17th century on is being transferred gradually to European institutions," he explained.
Conflicts between EU countries are disappearing and they are busy mostly with their own economic development and political institution building, he said. As a result, EU countries seem less active in foreign policies than they were in the past. On the other hand, Asia has maintained a structure that is "most similar to the international system that one reads in textbooks".
For most part of history, China had been a dominant country in Asia. But the past 100 years has seen Japan taking the dominant role. Today, however, besides Japan, the region has seen the rise of China, India, Indonesia (in the foreseeable future) and the Republic of Korea (to a lesser extent). These countries have strong national identities with their relationships mostly based on cooperation, though competition is very much a reality.
"The relationships of these countries will have a huge impact on the future of peace and prosperity in the region," he said. And this is exactly why he calls for Sino-US cooperation. "China has developed in a manner that none of us could have imagined 35 years ago It has grown with the dedication of its people by its own efforts."
Many of the students in the audience were eager to know what Kissinger thought about the rise of China. Stressing that he appreciated China's economic and diplomatic rise, he said: "I tell my friends and colleagues when they talk about the rise of China and the ensuing problems and challenges that it was inevitable There is nothing we could or should do to prevent it."
The traditional concept that shaped the international system of the past three centuries has made people believe that conflicts are inevitable when "the center of gravity moves from one region to another" and when another country suddenly becomes "very powerful", he said. That is why "cooperation is essential".
This is a cooperation between the most developed country and the country that is most developing to face a series of new problems such as climate change, environmental problems, globalization, energy needs, nuclear proliferation and other security issues, he said. These are the real challenges facing humanity today.
For instance, countries ought to cooperate to deal with energy issues by looking for new sources, he said. Every country is now interdependent and faces similar, if not the same, challenges, he said. So countries must start communicating with each other through strategic economic dialogues that the US and China are now engaged in.
China's rise has also given rise to talk on interaction of military forces, which he said, is inevitable. "Every country protects its security and looks at military forces of other countries' as a threat A dialogue on this issue is of great importance and (has been) taking place to some extent. And it should be continued."
"Anybody who has studied history knows that you cannot predict what will happen in 20 or 25 years," he said, but hoped students and the youth "should not think of other countries are adversaries", especially because they "will be shaping the international system and the world 20 or 25 years from now". Students should not grow up believing that the power of the US, or the rise of China, will harm relations.
"Our future depends on cooperation and being able to create an international system that has never existed before," he said. German philosopher Kant talked about "perpetual peace" in the world more than 200 years ago. "Someday, the world will achieve universal peace, but the question is whether it will be achieved by human insight or through catastrophes of such a nature that there is no return," Kissinger quoted Kant as saying.
(China Daily April 4, 2007)