Drive a wedge between Beijing and Moscow


Pool / Jason Lee

Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger made his 100th visit to Beijing.

These two significant numbers were not bypassed in their speeches by top Chinese leaders, who noted the outstanding contribution of the aksakal of U.S. foreign policy to the development and strengthening of U.S.-China relations. “Two times a hundred” has a special meaning for the Chinese and evokes special feelings not only among the common people. Therefore, not being a high-ranking official, the former Secretary of State was given the highest honors in China. Already on the day of his arrival in Beijing on July 18, Henry Kissinger met with Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu, who had not yet been met by U.S. high-ranking officials due to Chinese refusals. On July 19, Kissinger met with Wang Yi, director of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee’s Foreign Affairs Commission Office, who now effectively not only directs Chinese foreign policy but replaces the absent Foreign Minister Qin Gang. Wang Yi, during the part of the conversation that was recorded by the press, said that the current U.S. leadership needs “Kissinger-style diplomatic wisdom and Nixon-style political courage.” This is a clear reference to the golden age of Sino-American relations, when the ice of the Cold War was melted 50 years ago and the process of détente and rapprochement began, allowing China to rapidly develop and become the world’s second largest economy.

As we know, Henry Kissinger served as U.S. Secretary of State under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. In the 1970s, he played a key role in normalizing relations between Washington and Beijing.

The White House has been harping on the fact that Henry Kissinger’s current visit is not an official visit, he is not acting on behalf of the US government. But it isn’t. His current, 100th trip crowns a recent series of visits by senior U.S. administration officials and major businessmen, including Secretary of State Blinken and Treasury Secretary Yellen. At the same time as Kissinger, the special representative on climate and another former Secretary of State, John Kerry, was in Beijing. It is noteworthy that some time ago, against the backdrop of Washington’s sanctions war and military support for Taiwan, Beijing refused to cooperate on climate issues. And now the Chinese have received special representative Kerry. This already indicates a change in the approach of the U.S. leadership and a corresponding reaction on the part of China.

John Kerry and Wang Yi. Photo: Reuters

Despite the private nature of Kissinger’s visit, he will receive the highest respect and attention — he was received by Chinese President Xi Jinping, who called the former secretary of state “an old friend of the country” and noted Kissinger’s long-standing contribution to the normalization of relations between Beijing and Washington, “which has not only benefited the two countries, but also changed the world.”

There is no official information about these “cordial” and really unofficial conversations of Kissinger and will not be. It is to be hoped that the Russian competent authorities will receive such information, because it is very important. But it is worth paying attention to what is broadcast to the public. In particular, Xi noted that China and the U.S. are now “at a crossroads” and they need to make a choice again. According to the Chinese leader, mutually beneficial achievements can lead the sides to common prosperity.

“The key is to follow the three principles of mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and win-win cooperation. On this basis, China is willing to explore with the U.S. side the right path for the two countries and promote the sustainable progress of China-U.S. relations, which will benefit both sides and the world,” Xi said.

Kissinger responded by saying that Washington-Beijing relations are crucial to the development of both countries and the world.

“Under the current circumstances, we must adhere to the principles set forth in the Shanghai Communiqué, understand the extreme importance of the ‘one China’ principle for the PRC, and promote U.S.-China relations in a positive direction. I stand ready to continue my efforts to strengthen mutual understanding between the people of the United States and China,” said the veteran U.S. foreign policy official.

Photo: Reuters

50 years ago Kissinger managed to persuade the American leadership to start a new policy towards China, which for almost 20 years distanced China from the USSR, turned it into a de facto adversary and contributed to the collapse of Russia. At the same time, America changed its approach to relations with the USSR, and a gradual easing of tensions and the process of disarmament began, which turned into “détente.”

Half a century ago, thanks to Kissinger, Washington did what no one seems to have predicted, it agreed to the “Three Communiqués” with China. The Three Communiqués are U.S.-China official documents that set the framework for U.S. behavior toward Taiwan. All three enshrine the “one China” principle and the U.S. commitment not to interfere in the PRC’s internal affairs.

In December 1978, the U.S. government, going along with China, realized the three principal conditions put forward by the Chinese government. Namely: “break off diplomatic contacts with the Taiwanese authorities,” “cancel the ‘Joint Defense Treaty’ and withdraw troops from Taiwan.” On January 1, 1979, the PRC and the United States formally established diplomatic relations. The Joint Communiqué on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations between the PRC and the U.S. stated, “The United States of America recognizes that the Government of the People’s Republic of China is the only legitimate government of China. In this context, the American people will maintain cultural, commercial, and other unofficial ties with the Taiwanese people”; “The U.S. Government recognizes China’s position that there is only one China and that Taiwan is an integral part of China.”

However, just three months later, the U.S. Congress passed the so-called Taiwan Relations Act. As the PRC believes, it is under this act that the U.S. government continues to sell arms to Taiwan and, in fact, interfere in China’s internal affairs, preventing Taiwan’s reunification with mainland China. Will there be a change in this regard and what does Kissinger, a proponent of so-called “realpolitik”, now seek?

He voiced some of his thoughts in an interview with The Economist, timed to coincide with the 100th jubilee. In particular, Kissinger convinces not only the West but also Russia that Ukraine’s membership in NATO is not only possible but also beneficial for all. As a NATO member, Ukraine is deprived of the right to make independent decisions and, by the way, will no longer attack Russia. Kissinger may have been lobbying for this idea in Beijing. Another of Kissinger’s ideas is to involve China in the peacemaking process on Ukraine and thus put pressure on Moscow and limit its maneuvering, forcing it to look back at its de facto ally — Beijing.

Undoubtedly, one of Kissinger’s main goals is to break up the PRC-Russia partnership. Another proponent of “realpolitik,” Charles Kupchan, a senior fellow at the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations, confirmed the permanence of this strategy not long ago. In an interview with the American magazine The National Interest, he concluded that the PRC-Russia alliance is impossible to defeat, and therefore:

“The West should seek to weaken the emerging Sino-Russian bloc by looking for ways to increase the distance between Moscow and Beijing. Because of its special operation in Ukraine, Russia has just become economically and strategically dependent on China; Russian leader Vladimir Putin will hardly enjoy being an aide to his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping. Atlantic democracies should exploit the Kremlin’s discomfort as it becomes China’s junior partner, signaling that Russia has the choice of the West. Russia needs China more than China needs Russia, so the West should also seek to distance Beijing from Moscow.”

To be sure, in Beijing Kissinger continued his life’s work, playing on the pragmatism of Chinese leaders, studying their views on the matter and showing them options and moves. But in order to “detach China from Russia,” there needs to be an easing of tensions with the United States. And this requires serious concessions on both sides in the spirit of “realpolitik.” It is clear that no efforts by Kissinger and his ilk can overcome the fundamental contradictions between the U.S. and China, between the hegemon and the young global leader who is gaining strength. There is an insurmountable difference in approaches to world politics and contradictions between the two social systems. But this does not cancel out temporary compromises, probably beneficial to both sides. How deep they are and what role Kissinger played in achieving them, we may learn in the not too distant future. For example, in the course of direct contacts between the leaders of China and the United States.