When one of the world’s most accomplished analysts of international behavior chooses to avoid giving specific answers to carefully formulated questions on the future of the Sino-United States relationship, there is cause for serious concern. The concern is not about the state of Henry Kissinger’s still remarkably astute mind, but about what that mind truly thinks about the nature of the relationship:
” ‘What I am reflecting about now is not that I don’t think I know an answer to your question,’ says a pensive Henry Kissinger, sitting in his spacious Park Avenue corner office adorned with signed photos of former presidents and foreign leaders. ‘It’s that I don’t know whether I choose to talk about it at this moment and in this forum…And I don’t mind dropping the interview and I don’t mind you saying that I refused to go any further and pay the price for it.’…’I really think that what you should say is that you tried to get down this road with me,’ he advises. ‘I won’t do it. I’ve written what I have to write on the subject. Let me take my beating as a result of that, and just stop it. That’s a bigger news story than anything I can possibly say in an interview. I will not now discuss a confrontational strategy with China in a formal way.’ ” Bret Stephens, ‘Henry Kissinger on China. Or Not.’, The Wall Street Journal, May 21, 2011
Now that is a truly interesting statement!
So let me answer the questions raised by Bret Stephens, but evaded by Henry Kissinger. I surely do not have the analytical reach of the former Secretary of State, but I think that I can read his mind.
Question 1: How do you regard the treatment by the Chinese government of Chinese dissident, Liu Xiaobo?
Answer 1: The Chinese autocrats are terrified by the Middle Eastern reach of the Jasmine Revolution. They look over their shoulders at 600 million Chinese peasants living on subsistence wages and restricted from migration to the cities by apartheid rules, and they fear for their lives. Most of them have sent their children to Western universities in the hope that safe passages will be provided for them should a popular revolution break out. Liu Ziaobo will be detained in custody for the rest of his life, which may well be shorter than nature intended. Unless, that is, the Jasmine Revolution successfully extends to the Middle Kingdom.
Question 2: What’s the right – and wrong – way of raising human rights with the Chinese?
Answer 2: Given that the United States government has placed itself into financial hock with the Chinese dictators, there is no effective way to raise such issues. One cannot impose sanctions on one’s banker when he owns you lock, stock and barrel. One cannot threaten military intervention when one has lost all credibility by one’s failure to deal with Gaddafi in Libya and when one’s surge forces are stalemated in a minor country like Afghanistan. The United States is now Rome at the end of Empire. Keep quiet, or suck up to the dictators, and hope that they do not storm your barricades!
Question 3: Will an autocratic China ever fufill the promises of genuine economic reform?
Answer 3: Not in your lifetime, Mr. Stephens. The next President of China, Xi Jinping, is a throw-back to the more repressive past, perhaps even to the last dreadful days of Chairman Mao. As one of the Princelings whose families survived through the Cultural Revolution and now have built their fortunes through political corruption, Xi Jinping and his close associates will rely less on popular loyalty and much more on increased repression. That is one reason why Liu Xiaobo and like-minded dissidents will continue to rot in jail.
Question 4: Will Chinese nationalism coupled with aggressive militarization threaten the Pax Americana?
Answer 4: Damn sure it will! You ain’t seen nothing yet! The recent moves in the South China Sea are childs-play by comparison with what is yet to come. China’s ‘One-China’ stance is not simple rhetoric. The new leaders will move to take back Taiwan and the United States will be helpless to stop them. A British-style Hong Kong handback is clearly on the cards for Taiwan. What the Chinese then do to Taiwanese dissidents will make the treatment of Liu Xiaobo look like a Club Med. paradise.
So now we can understand why Henry Kissinger was less talkative than usual!