China Enlists Kissinger to Translate as U.S. Talks Hit Brick Wall

China’s President Xi Jinping (right) speaks with former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger during a meeting in Beijing on July 20, 2023. (-/CNS/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

(Bloomberg News/TNS) – China and the U.S. are finally talking after a months-long freeze, but the two sides still agree on little. Now, Beijing is reverting to a tried tactic to get its message over: enlisting old friends.

President Xi Jinping welcomed centenarian Henry Kissinger last week at the same guesthouse where the former secretary of state sat down with Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai on his historic, clandestine 1971 trip that paved the way to restoring bilateral relations. The Chinese leader told Kissinger on Friday: “We’ll never forget our old friend.”

China is struggling to find a common diplomatic language to talk productively with its biggest trading partner as President Joe Biden leads a global campaign to block its main economic rival from a vast swath of high-end technology, citing security reasons. In that environment, Xi has turned to established friendly figures outside the U.S. government to try to better convey its world view and push China’s agenda.

Days before U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Beijing last month, the Chinese leader met with American billionaire Bill Gates, telling him that China “pins hopes on American people” for bilateral ties — suggesting his country’s problems are with the U.S. government and not its citizens or business people.

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Xi also sat down with former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in Beijing last week, praising ties between Manilla and Beijing during his tenure. The Asian nation’s current leader, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who is expanding military partnership with the U.S., is likely to get any message from Xi via his predecessor: his vice president is Duterte’s daughter.

“Even though there’s been a resumption of senior-level discussions between China and the U.S. in recent months, it’s still not enough,” said Victor Gao, vice president of the Center for China and Globalization think tank who served as translator to the late leader Deng Xiaoping.

Meeting with business leaders and other important figures helps make China’s ties with the rest of the world “more personable” and speaks to Xi’s desire to build connections with the American people, he said.

Sun Yun, a senior fellow and director of the China Program at the Washington-based Stimson Center, said the meeting was striking given China’s refusal to meet Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin at a security forum in Singapore earlier this year.

“It symbolizes that the U.S. government position is the cause of the lack of military to military communication,” she added, “as Beijing is willing to let Li have a meeting with Kissinger, who is seen as friendly and reasonable.”

U.S. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said the White House was looking “forward to hearing from Dr. Kissinger when he returns,” adding that the U.S. side had known of the trip in advance. “It’s unfortunate that a private citizen can meet with the defense minister and have a communication and the United States can’t,” Kirby added. “That is something that we want to solve.”

Kissinger also discussed the volatile topic of Taiwan with China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, who said the U.S. should publicly denounce what he termed Taiwanese “separatist forces,” and stick to the terms of a joint document issued by Beijing and Washington in 1972 that Kissinger helped negotiate. Washington needs “Kissinger-style diplomatic wisdom” in its China policies, Wang said.

Neither Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen nor U.S. climate envoy John Kerry, whose four-day visit briefly overlapped with Kissinger’s, met Xi during their visits to China. Only Secretary of State Antony Blinken had a sit-down with the Chinese leader. That contrasted sharply with Xi’s side-by-side meeting just days before with Gates, who arrived in the capital on the eve of Xi’s 70th birthday.

Still, it’s unclear how effective China’s “old friends” strategy will be.

Kissinger, who published his history On China in 2011, acknowledged in an interview last year he hadn’t heard from Biden since he’d taken office, even though he’d been invited to meet every president at the White House since Richard Nixon.

Zhou Zhixing, a Chinese political commentator, wrote on social media that Xi’s embrace of “old friends” only exposed that Beijing had failed to connect with a new generation of China experts in the U.S.

George Magnus, a research associate at Oxford University’s China Centre, said Kissinger’s role as an emissary likely wouldn’t lead to anything of “substance.”

“The strong message this friendship sends out is China would like nothing better than to be able to engage with a new 21st-century Kissinger on whom Beijing could depend,” he said.

Source: Hamodia


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