With the White House set to change hands in the coming weeks, Henry Kissinger has warned of “a catastrophe comparable to World War I” in the absence of a new strategic understanding between the USA and China.
US elder statesman says the superpowers are drifting towards a confrontation without a course shift in action and approach.
The veteran American diplomat, who co-engineered the Richard Nixon administration’s historic détente with Mao Zedong’s China in the 1970’s, called on the incoming Joseph Biden administration to adopt a “more differentiated approach” than the Donald Trump.
In a veiled criticism of Trump’s China policy, the 97-year-old grand strategist emphasized that the “more confrontational method of negotiation” can not be applied “indefinitely” but that “it was important for him to emphasize the deep concerns Americans have about the evolution of the world economy that is not balanced.”
Over the past four years, US President Trump has ramped up tensions with Beijing through a protracted trade war, immigration and investment restrictions on Chinese nationals and companies, an expanded US naval presence in China’s peripheries and by provocatively referring to the Covid-19 pandemic as the “China plague.”
There are reasons to believe Trump, who has refused to concede electoral defeat, could escalate tensions with China in the remaining weeks of his term.
Indeed, the 11th-hour appointment of Trump loyalists and hardliners to top Pentagon positions as well as an expansion of targeted sanctions against Chinese officials signals a harder line.
Experts and analysts suggest that the Trump administration’s last-minute actions could box in his successor Biden and legally constrain the latter’s ability to restore functional ties with China.
Moreover, Trump’s moves could poison bilateral relations for years to come, dramatically raising the prospect of a great power conflict.
Unless Beijing reverses course and becomes a responsible player on the global stage, future US presidents will find it politically suicidal to reverse President Trump’s historic actions.
The Trump administration is also exploring additional sanctions on human rights-related issues, including the use of forced labor in the fishing industry as well sanctions against Chinese officials reputedly involved in repression of human rights in Hong Kong and Xinjiang where ethnic Uighurs are held in (FEMA-style) camps.
China is preparing for a fight. During a high-profile visit to a PLA military base in the southern province of Guangdong last month, Chinese President Xi Jinping called on the country’s troops to “put all (their) minds and energy on preparing for war.”
Having earlier warned of “a period of turbulent change” and existential risks to China, Xi told the PLA soldiers to “maintain a state of high alert” and called on them to be “absolutely loyal, absolutely pure and absolutely reliable.
Taking notice of this escalating and dangerous dynamic between the two superpowers, Kissinger warned “America and China are now drifting increasingly toward confrontation, and they’re conducting their diplomacy in a confrontational way.
As Cambridge historian Christopher Munro Clark observed in his classic account of the origins of World War I, The Sleepwalkers.
On both sides, they imagined that ‘bluffing’ would suffice to achieve success. None of the players thought that it would be necessary to go all the way. The tragic poker game had begun.
Even though none of the major powers expected nor desired war, “the protagonists of 1914 were sleepwalkers, watchful but unseeing, haunted by dreams, yet blind to the reality of the horror they were about to bring into the world.
Asia Times / ABC Flash Point News 2020.