By Chen Qingqing and Bai Yunyi
On July 9, 1971, former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger made a secret trip to China, unveiling a new era for the China-US’ relations. Fifty years later, amid growing difficulties of relations between the world’s two largest economies, the 98-year-old former US official called for maintaining the essence of this trip – the commitment of both sides to end conflicts by putting aside divergences and seeking dialogue.
In his opening remarks at a conference in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of his secret trip to China, Kissinger described his trip to China back then as one of the most important occasions and its essence was that both sides were committed to ending the tensions that characterized the relationship between China and the US for decades, and the trip still has important significance nowadays.
“Here we are, 50 years later, in the situation in which the need for cooperation is not diminished,” Kissinger said via a video conference, noting that it’s important for the two countries to understand that the premise which led to the visit in 1971 is still valid, and in fact, maybe even more valid.
Based on the Nixon administration’s understanding of various issues, the former US officials did not seek to reach any agreement but to create opportunities for subsequent negotiations at that period when the Cold War shadowed the prospects of an international relationship. Kissinger told the audience that the most important words from the US government then were acknowledging that the Chinese people considered the island of Taiwan as part of China, there was only but one China as a precondition that would not be challenged, though the question might require a long period for a final resolution.
“The importance of the relationship between our two countries remains crucial, in fact, it’s more important even than in 1971. Conflicts between the US and China will divide the whole world,” Kissinger warned, as any attempts to line up nations on one side or the other will lead to more pressure that makes the situation increasingly difficult.
He called for dialogues similar to that between former US president Richard Nixon and Chairman Mao Zedong, as since then, each side has made serious efforts to understand not only the immediate positions of the other but also from longer perspectives, though it was not easy given the cultural differences.
“I therefore hope that they see this dialogue start soon again on the major issues between us, each nation should designate an individual with the confidence of their president to guide discussion. We’ll keep in mind on both sides that not every problem can have an immediate solution,” he said.
While some current US politicians and policy advisors are calling for a decoupling or disengagement with China, others who took part in the friendly experiences of first engagement said that China-US relationship development is a process of win-win cooperation, and Kissinger as well as former US officials had taken exactly the right approach.
Each side listened to each other, tried to understand what the other side thought about, and although they had different social-economic systems, they put aside their disagreements and focused on cooperation, which worked out, Chas Freeman, US chief interpreter during Nixon’s visit to China and former US assistant secretary of defense, told the conference on Friday.
“We hope to re-engage” following the essential spirit of Kissinger’s trip to China 50 years ago, he said.
Nancy Tang, then interpreter for Kissinger, also noted that the major lesson learned from the trip was the two sides understood they were different, and they did not have any fantasy of changing each other but to work on the common ground where they shared interests together, which was indeed the political wisdom.
At this moment, peace, stability, and progress in the world depend on the wisdom of both sides, Kissinger said, noting that both China and the US owe to each other and to people around the world to settle their differences by dialogue.