When Henry Kissinger, the 100-year-old former U.S. Secretary of State, made a surprise visit to Beijing in July, he probably attracted more attention from the Chinese public than any senior U.S. official traveling to China in the past two months. During his time in the Chinese capital, Kissinger had talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping and several high-ranking officials. Following the visit, former China analyst at the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Dennis Wilder told AFP News that China "deliberately receives individuals who are suspected of changing Washington's views on China."
But the Chinese public cannot and does not identify with this view.
Kissinger is considered somewhat of a living legend in China. In July 1971, as President Richard Nixon's national security advisor, Kissinger secretly flew to Beijing from Pakistan. His meetings with Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai there produced an agreement that Nixon would visit China. Nixon visited China in February 1972, becoming the first sitting American president to visit the People's Republic of China and breaking years of icy silence between the two countries. Kissinger basically paved the way for the normalization of Sino-American relations at the time.
Since that first secret trip 52 years ago, Kissinger has visited China more than 100 times.
The fact that he today, despite his advanced age, continues to try his best to stabilize bilateral relations, warrants the utmost respect. "We never forget our old friends, nor your historic contributions to promoting the growth of China-U.S. relations and enhancing friendship between the two peoples," Xi told Kissinger during their meeting on July 20.
As a key figure who personally worked to normalize relations between China and the U.S., Kissinger always says China's rise was inevitable and urges the U.S. and China to resolve their conflicts through dialogue and manage global crises through cooperation. From his viewpoint, this is the only way to truly serve U.S. interests and benefit the international community.
During his talks with Chinese Minister of Defense Li Shangfu on July 18, Kissinger said, "History and practice have proven time and again that neither the U.S. nor China can afford to treat the other as an adversary. If there is a war between the two countries, it will not bring meaningful results to the people."
When meeting with Kissinger, Wang Yi, Director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, said American policy needed "Kissinger-style diplomatic wisdom and Nixon-style political bravery."
Many American politicians often say that China's development path, political system and values are completely different from those of the U.S., and use that narrative as a basis for hostility toward China. But these differences are not new. When Kissinger first visited China, the U.S. and China had been isolated from each other for more than 20 years.
Cooperation between the two countries over the past decades proved significant. American funds and technologies helped accelerate China's development, and China's rise as the largest producer of manufactured goods and the second largest consumption market in the world, in turn, benefited the U.S. Today, the international situation and the balance of power between China and the U.S. have all changed. The U.S. considers China, now the second largest economy in the world, its biggest competitor. But as the challenges facing today's world are even more complex than those 50 years ago, from climate change to geopolitical conflicts and the global economic recession, they require the joint efforts of both countries.
How to have China and the U.S. get along without losing sight of respective national interests is the primary question to which policymakers in both countries must now respond.
Hopefully, the U.S. will not forget how, half a century ago, leaders of both countries were able to transcend ideological differences with extraordinary foresight and courage, and took a historic step forward. It is in everyone's interest that the U.S. will meet China halfway, bringing bilateral ties back onto a track of sound and stable development. Hopefully, the legend of Kissinger's actions will live on.
Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon
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