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Kissinger's legacy needs to pass on

By ZHU CHENGE | China Daily | Updated: 2023-12-02 09:54


With the death of former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger on Wednesday, China and the United States have lost a great witness, practitioner, thinker and conceiver. China-US ties, the world's most important bilateral relationship, have benefited immensely from his efforts.

Kissinger was a primary witness to the China-US "icebreaking" more than 50 years ago. During the Cold War era, China-US rapprochement was a shared expectation of far-sighted people in both countries. The sagacious leaders and diplomats in China and the US found a way out of geopolitics and ideology with accurate strategic thinking, taking the two giants' hands together.

Kissinger secretly flew to Beijing in July 1971 on a mission to establish ties with China, setting the ground for holding a summit meeting, reaching political consensus and the subsequent establishment of China-US diplomatic relations. The normalization of China-US relations has benefited the two countries and the whole world.

Kissinger was the practitioner who spent half his lifetime maintaining and developing China-US relations. This bilateral relationship has not been smooth-sailing; new changes in the international scenario have brought with them new challenges for the two countries. However, Kissinger made it his mission to deal with China-US relations well.

Visiting China more than 100 times, he saw it as his role to spread the ideas of peace, communicating benevolent intentions and appealing for self-restraint and calmness. These are remarkable achievements. As President Xi Jinping praised Kissinger in July when receiving him in Beijing, "We never forget our old friends, nor your historic contributions to promoting China-US relations and enhancing friendship between the two peoples."

Kissinger was pragmatic about China-US relations and major-country diplomacy. He grew up in wartime and world history had a profound influence on him, leading to his realism-oriented strategic thinking as a political scientist and statesman.

Following masters of realpolitik such as Otto von Bismarck and Cardinal Richelieu, Kissinger attempted to go beyond ideology and unilateral moral principle in world politics, using rational decision-making and frequent diplomatic communications to cope with complex foreign affairs.

As he said, "So I'd like to think that what I have tried consistently to do is to think in long-range terms and in the national interest, but in the national interest related to the national interests of other countries. Because if you assert only your interests, without linking them to the interests of others, you will not be able to sustain your efforts."

The interests of China and the US intertwine so deeply that the two countries must advance bilateral cooperation and dialogues to reach "win-win" outcomes.

Kissinger did not remain in the past, but kept looking forward. His participation in shaping the current world order provided him a historical mirror to observe the future. At Harvard back in the 1950s, he discussed the strategic effects of atomic weapons systematically, which influenced US foreign policy profoundly.

Even in his 90s, Kissinger focused on frontier issues such as artificial intelligence, considering whether and how they would reshape the world order. After the China-US summit meeting in San Francisco in November, the two countries have reached more than 20 consensuses officially, including on AI regulation. These diplomatic achievements are inseparable from the efforts of numerous architects such as Kissinger.

Kissinger can do no more, but his contributions to cooperation can be carried on, which will be his precious legacy to China and the US.

As he said, the US-China relationship is vital to the peace and prosperity of the two countries and the world at large, which the two sides should always keep in mind.

The author is an assistant researcher at the Institute of American Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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