Read Kissinger’s On China. If you don’t have the time, at least read my interview about the book with the former Secretary of State from July 7, 2011. In particular this exchange:
HH: Back to the book On China, it’s both a book and, what I tell people, a fact. It’s a history, but it’s also an instrument of history to the extent it impacts decision makers here or in China. It’s certainly going to do the former. But as to the latter, the people reading it in China, what do you hope it accomplishes? Are you writing it for the triumphalists or the opponents of the triumphalists? Who is its audience in China you most want to read it?
HK: No, there are two slightly different purposes in writing the book. One is to explain how Chinese think about international affairs to non-Chinese. Not to explain the Chinese point of view so much as to explain the way of thinking, the different concepts of time, and the different concepts of deterrence and defense that the Chinese have. Now as far as the Chinese are concerned, what my book might do is to show them how their actions are interpreted by other countries, and therefore, to the extent that they care about what other countries think, to enable them to conduct a policy that leads to cooperation rather than confrontation, if that is the decision they have made.
HH: One of the themes that you document is that China historically has feared encirclement. But now, it looks to many of us who follow it from journalism that they are moving beyond defense to offense with their investments in drones, their cyber attacks, and a variety of very provocative moves. Is this the triumph of the triumphalists, Dr. Kissinger?
HK: Well, you have in China at least two groups – one that you call the triumphalists, and the others that don’t have a clear label, whether I would say talk about partnership with the United States. At this moment, the partnership group seems to be the more preeminent one, but the other one is certainly vocal enough. So the big challenge that China has, and that to some extent we have, is this. When you have two major powers that impinge on each other all over the world, as we do, the outcome is very often conflict. But we know that a conflict between two countries of this magnitude is going to have catastrophic consequences. So can the leaders of both sides find a mechanism and a way of working together, and to avoid the catastrophe that happened in Europe, where nations went to war, and I’m talking about World War I, went to war. And if they had known what the world would look like five years later, they would never have done it. Can we avoid that? Can we avoid that outcome?
HH: You know, one of the bright…
HK: There are literally trends in China to worry about.
HH: One of the bracing things, alarming things, is at the end of On China, you quote a couple of their current bestsellers, one of which calls the United States an old cucumber painted green, another is PLA senior Colonel Liu Mingfu’s China Dream, that the great goal is to be number one, and that there’s a marathon contest, a duel of the century underway with us. And then your essay on the Crowe Memorandum, I finished the book thinking you might be a fatalist about the inevitability of a big conflict.
HK: No, I’m saying if you just study history, if you insist that history repeats itself, then you become fatalistic. But when you think that you have an obligation to create a better world, and to learn from history, then you try to avoid the mistakes that previous generations have made. But one shouldn’t kid oneself. If both sides are driven by nationalistic impulses, the tensions are going to get more and more severe, and that is what both sides have to try to avoid. It’s not something that we can do unilaterally.
HH: Do you, you made the analogy of the United Kingdom-German relations in the early 20th Century as perhaps informing U.S.-People’s Republic of China relations now. But do you also see China acting today as Japan did 90 and 100 years ago, and aggressively pushing out a co-prosperity sort of sphere?
HK: It’s not the normal Chinese style. The normal Chinese style is to influence by osmosis rather than by conflict. If they were to behave like Japan, the outcome would be very similar as in the case of Japan. They haven’t done that yet, but they have certainly been more assertive, especially in the South China Sea, than makes one comfortable….
HH: And I want to close by asking you about Deng Xiaoping in his 24 character instruction, his 12 character instruction. This is fascinating to me. I think everyone should read this. The 12 character instruction is enemy troops are outside the walls, they are stronger than we, we should be mainly on the defensive, and it’s that word mainly that worries me in the context of your book, which again and again shows that the PRC likes sudden, sharp blows as in Korea, as in India, as in the third Vietnam war. Was Deng Xiaoping saying that that’s a good strategy? And how worried are you about a sudden, sharp, mainly defensive but occasionally shatteringly offensive strategy by the PRC?
HK: Well, we have to understand that that is their strategic pattern. And worrying about it doesn’t help. One has to be aware that we must avoid situations where that strategy can be applied.
HH: Are we approaching one of those?
HK: I don’t see any place where this is imminent. Maybe in the South China Sea, this is a situation we should look at very carefully.