Prestowitz

Kissinger in China redux

Some of my loyal readers took me to task last week for suggesting that the Opening to China engineered by Henry Kissinger on behalf of President Richard Nixon might not have been the great diplomatic achievement it has long been presented (especially by Kissinger) to be. Some of the comments were quite good, and I ...

553055_kissinger_14.jpg
Chinese President Hu Jintao stands alongside former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger after being introduced prior to speaking during a luncheon for corporate and policy leaders co-hosted by the US-China Business Council and the National Committee on US-China Relations at the Marriott Wardman Park in Washington, DC, January 20, 2011. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

Some of my loyal readers took me to task last week for suggesting that the Opening to China engineered by Henry Kissinger on behalf of President Richard Nixon might not have been the great diplomatic achievement it has long been presented (especially by Kissinger) to be. Some of the comments were quite good, and I feel I should respond with more than just a quick reply.

I tried to make two main points. The first was that the opening didn’t have much if any payoff for the United States in terms of reducing its national security burden. The second was that, whereas before the opening China was poor, weak, and unable to challenge the U.S. in any way, since the opening China has become a great power that is widely displacing U.S. power and influence.

The main thrust of the criticism was that I went too far in attributing a wide range of U.S. and Chinese policies and actions over a long period to Kissinger’s negotiation of the opening. This is a fair criticism, and I accept that I overstated the significance of the opening with regard to later developments that have tended to expand China’s influence while eroding that of the United States. Nevertheless, I don’t think we should let Kissinger off the hook with regard to his influence upon and responsibility for the course of some of those later developments.

Power has always rested upon an economic base. The rise of China is due to its rapid economic growth and increase in competitiveness while the decline of America is the result of its eroding competitiveness. As I have noted extensively both in this blog and in several of my books and articles, these trends are the result of many causes both domestic and international. But one element in the erosion of U.S. competitiveness, power, and influence has been the impact of Chinese strategic industrial policy and mercantilist, export-led growth policies on the American free market/free trade system. To mention just one well known aspect of this situation, China’s undervaluation of its currency has been widely recognized as a serious problem not only for the United States, but also for the entire global trading system. Policies that make market access conditional on technology transfer and indigenous development have also raised issues. By the same token, U.S. policies emphasizing military over competitive priorities have also eroded U.S. competitiveness, power, and influence.

Not only has Kissinger never seriously objected to any of this. He has abetted it. He led the way in establishing the new class of ex-high official paladins who have established lucrative consulting practices by exploiting the high level contacts, entrée, and prestige they gained as top officials. As the head of Kissinger Associates, Henry the K assiduously courted Beijing and got rich by introducing global CEOs to China’s leaders and advising the business executives on how best to accommodate Beijing’s strategic economic policies. Since these policies are aimed at catching up to and overtaking U.S. industry and technology, China has found Kissinger quite helpful.

I have occasionally attended the meetings of the Bilderberg Group (an ultra-exclusive gathering of North Atlantic business, government, and academic leaders) of which Kissinger is a leading member. He was always one of the main pontificators at these meetings, but he never gave any indication that he was at all troubled by the emerging geo-economic trends or that he even understood the comment of Japan’s pre-war Finance Minister Takahashi Korekiyo who noted that "the results of an economic defeat are far more difficult to reverse than those of a military defeat."

Of course, Kissinger has been much imitated on the consultant track by many of his successors in high office. But it is interesting to contrast him and them to the likes of Harry Truman. Invited to serve on several corporate boards after stepping down from the Presidency, he declined, saying: "You don’t want me. You want the Presidency of the United States. But I can’t give you that because I don’t own it. It belongs to the citizens of the United States."

Truman, you see, really was a great man.

Some of my loyal readers took me to task last week for suggesting that the Opening to China engineered by Henry Kissinger on behalf of President Richard Nixon might not have been the great diplomatic achievement it has long been presented (especially by Kissinger) to be. Some of the comments were quite good, and I feel I should respond with more than just a quick reply.

I tried to make two main points. The first was that the opening didn’t have much if any payoff for the United States in terms of reducing its national security burden. The second was that, whereas before the opening China was poor, weak, and unable to challenge the U.S. in any way, since the opening China has become a great power that is widely displacing U.S. power and influence.

The main thrust of the criticism was that I went too far in attributing a wide range of U.S. and Chinese policies and actions over a long period to Kissinger’s negotiation of the opening. This is a fair criticism, and I accept that I overstated the significance of the opening with regard to later developments that have tended to expand China’s influence while eroding that of the United States. Nevertheless, I don’t think we should let Kissinger off the hook with regard to his influence upon and responsibility for the course of some of those later developments.

Power has always rested upon an economic base. The rise of China is due to its rapid economic growth and increase in competitiveness while the decline of America is the result of its eroding competitiveness. As I have noted extensively both in this blog and in several of my books and articles, these trends are the result of many causes both domestic and international. But one element in the erosion of U.S. competitiveness, power, and influence has been the impact of Chinese strategic industrial policy and mercantilist, export-led growth policies on the American free market/free trade system. To mention just one well known aspect of this situation, China’s undervaluation of its currency has been widely recognized as a serious problem not only for the United States, but also for the entire global trading system. Policies that make market access conditional on technology transfer and indigenous development have also raised issues. By the same token, U.S. policies emphasizing military over competitive priorities have also eroded U.S. competitiveness, power, and influence.

Not only has Kissinger never seriously objected to any of this. He has abetted it. He led the way in establishing the new class of ex-high official paladins who have established lucrative consulting practices by exploiting the high level contacts, entrée, and prestige they gained as top officials. As the head of Kissinger Associates, Henry the K assiduously courted Beijing and got rich by introducing global CEOs to China’s leaders and advising the business executives on how best to accommodate Beijing’s strategic economic policies. Since these policies are aimed at catching up to and overtaking U.S. industry and technology, China has found Kissinger quite helpful.

I have occasionally attended the meetings of the Bilderberg Group (an ultra-exclusive gathering of North Atlantic business, government, and academic leaders) of which Kissinger is a leading member. He was always one of the main pontificators at these meetings, but he never gave any indication that he was at all troubled by the emerging geo-economic trends or that he even understood the comment of Japan’s pre-war Finance Minister Takahashi Korekiyo who noted that "the results of an economic defeat are far more difficult to reverse than those of a military defeat."

Of course, Kissinger has been much imitated on the consultant track by many of his successors in high office. But it is interesting to contrast him and them to the likes of Harry Truman. Invited to serve on several corporate boards after stepping down from the Presidency, he declined, saying: "You don’t want me. You want the Presidency of the United States. But I can’t give you that because I don’t own it. It belongs to the citizens of the United States."

Truman, you see, really was a great man.

Clyde Prestowitz is the founder and president of the Economic Strategy Institute, a former counselor to the secretary of commerce in the Reagan administration, and the author of The World Turned Upside Down: America, China, and the Struggle for Global Leadership. Twitter: @clydeprestowitz

Tag: China

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