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On China, by Henry Kissinger

Kissinger is convinced that China must be dealt with through compromise.

(Page 2 of 2)



That’s exactly what the US has been trying to do recently by proposing rules of the road for navigation through the South China Sea – a vast expanse, most of which China claims as its own. But China has made clear that it would prefer to deal with conflicts over the exploration for oil in the South China Sea on a country-by-country basis and not through any broader framework.

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When it comes to the threat of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, Kissinger proposes addressing the problem by means of an overall security structure, or “an agreed peaceful order for Northeast Asia.” This strikes me as unrealistic given the failures of the discontinued six-nation talks that began eight years ago and that were aimed at ending North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

China and the United States appear to have totally different priorities on the Korean peninsula. China appears ready to continue propping up its ally, North Korea, because that country’s collapse could lead to a massive flow of refugees into China and would remove a counterweight to US power on China’s northeastern border. China may not want a nuclear North Korea, but that appears to be a secondary priority for Beijing. For the US, however, an end to the North Korean nuclear program has to be its first priority.

Kissinger also states that “an aspect of strategic tension in the current world situation resides in the Chinese fear that America is seeking to contain China – paralleled by American concern that China is seeking to expel the United States from Asia.” To ease both Chinese and American fears, he proposes an even more sweeping but unrealistic vision – the concept of a “Pacific Community” in which the US and China and other major countries such as Japan, Indonesia, Vietnam, India, and Australia participate.

A Pacific Rim forum already exists, however – the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum – which includes all of the countries mentioned by Kissinger
except for India. Security issues have been added to its trade-focused agenda. But it has not scored any major breakthroughs in upholding Asian peace and security. And what advantage would US allies Japan and South Korea see in joining such a US-China partnership when the US and China frequently find themselves so far apart on so many issues?

Furthermore, might such an arrangement not weaken these two nations’ alliances with the US?

Kissinger’s "On China" may sell well in China, although for any approved Chinese edition, the censors might have to remove his fleeting reference to Mao’s “legacy of grandiosity and brutality.” In China, criticism of Mao is still largely taboo.

Dan Southerland, executive editor of Radio Free Asia, is a former Monitor correspondent and a former Beijing bureau chief for The Washington Post.

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