Letters & Opinion

Domestic and Foreign Policy Approaches Revisited — Part 3

Lessons from Henry Kissinger and the World’s Two Most Powerful Leaders

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Chronicles Of A Chronic Caribbean Chronicler By Earl Bousquet

If change is the only constant, then that also includes the eternal mobility of international relations, which change with the political climate of the time.

Ahead of the third Xi-Biden Virtual Summit, spokespersons for Beijing’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the US Department of State publicly tabled each side’s respective expectations.

Both acknowledged Taiwan would be on the agenda, each beating war drums up to the day before the meeting, over an imagined military conflict that both have been able to avoid for 50 years.

In response to the current Taiwan administration’s hawkish approach to the unlikely issue of the island becoming ‘Independent’ and the perpetuation of Washington’s non-specific promises to ‘support’ the island in any military conflict with the mainland, Beijing has not lowered the tone.

Henry Kissinger, the then advisor to US President Richard Nixon in 1971 who influenced the White House to dump the island for the mainland, has lived to observe and comment on the state of play in US-China-Taiwan developments five decades later.

The political, economic and diplomatic global situation has gone through a tidal wave of related climate change in the 600 months since Nixon’s advice led to the US and the United Nations (UN) recognition of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as the only China (embracing the One China policy).

In a rare and revealing interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria last Sunday, Kissinger recalled that back then, Chairman Mao and President Nixon had laughingly assured each other that they wouldn’t go to war over Taiwan until ‘maybe in one hundred years…’

Walking back down Memory Lane, the Grand Old Dean of American Diplomacy recalled that back then China was poor and powerless, but today is rich and powerful; and the challenge facing Beijing and Washington — “then and now” — remains “To be able to compete without diving into a holocaust…”

Kissinger said China and the US remain ‘the two most influential countries on earth” and the challenge remains “not the danger of ending a war, but starting one.”

He noted that Biden also had the 2021 challenge of “being expected” to treat China as being always out to hurt America, but advised that “rivalry doesn’t have to be automatic” and Beijing and Washington should “talk about how to improve” their attitudes over Taiwan.

According to Kissinger, “One China is the ultimate policy objective” of all successive administrations in Beijing – and that’s why he recalled the Mao-Nixon exchange over burying the hatchet — over Taiwan — for a century.

So, if the PRC and the US have been able to so admirably Keep the Peace for five decades, what’s the problem?

Actually, it’s the three Bilateral Agreements between Washington and Beijing (since 1971) recognizing One China and Washington’s Taiwan Relations Act, the latter violating the bilateral agreements and offering cold comfort to Taiwan under an invisible veil of ‘Plausible Deniability’ that effectively allows Washington to decide when and where, if at all…

Trump brought US-China ties dangerously close to the edge by approving US arms sales and military cooperation with Taiwan to enhance US presence and influence in the South China Sea; and Biden – himself a decades-old diplomatic war horse on Capitol Hill – has seen the political capital in the commonsense approach of Keeping the Peace with China, hence his decision to embrace his old friend President Xi and waltz their way across the Climate Change carpet in Glasgow just before their online re-engagement.

Where Wall Street wants a greater presence behind the Great Wall while the private-public Military Industrial Complex wants another World War to maximize profits from armaments, the US military is very-much unwilling to go to war with the next most powerful army on earth.

After all, it wasn’t for nothing the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Armed Forces secretly called his counterpart in Beijing to assure him he would surely be informed, in advance, if President Trump decided to declare war on China.

Nor was it just diplomatic small-talk when Presidents Xi and Biden agreed that China and America will continue to observe the 100 Year Truce Mao and Nixon spoke of, when they pledged to not only avoid any military conflict (for any other reason), but also (even more important) to ‘prevent’ an accidental military engagement over Taiwan.

So, how does all that translate into the continuing claims by Taipei that China can and will attack Taiwan any time and Washington should therefore increase its military capacity to withstand a ‘China invasion’ and prevent the island from becoming Independent?

From all they said, Presidents Xi and Biden went to great lengths to make it abundantly clear that neither Beijing, nor Washington, are interested in going to war over Taiwan – and Kissinger has just reminded both sides there’s another 50 years before the verbal Mao-Nixon Taiwan truce expires.

So, how does all that translate into diplomacy?

And where does it leave nations that echo the loud sounds of distant war drums without listening to the louder silence of today’s soft or hardline diplomacy? We’ll look that way in Part 4.

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