Kissinger in the New Era, who will it be?
The Chinese President has literally sent a message
(This newsletter was originally published on Beijing Channel by Yang Liu, its founder and a long-time contributor to Pekingnology.)
The biggest Sino-U.S. news in Chinese media today is Chinese President Xi Jinping’s letter (ENG) to Starbucks’ chairman emeritus Howard Schultz, and the message it carried: promote China-U.S. economic and trade cooperation and bilateral ties.
In the letter, Xi wrote:
China's embarking upon the new journey of fully building a modern socialist country will provide broader space for enterprises from across the world, including Starbucks and other American companies, to develop in China, (I) hope Starbucks will make active efforts to promote China-U.S. economic and trade cooperation as well as the two countries' relations.
The letter is among the latest and, in your host’s opinion, the most targeted public signaling of goodwill toward a U.S. businessman, a U.S. business, U.S. businesses, and the United States of America thus far.
In fact, the letter got publicized by Xinhua over a week after being sent on Jan. 6, for reasons unclear to your host.
Your host can't find a discernible pattern for such practice of publicizing replies to a personal letter from abroad; the best speculation is that the highlight of these replies is on a case by case basis, thus entailing a selective nature.
Put it in other words, it appears to send a message in literally sending a message.
Schultz has enjoyed a long-standing amicable relationship with top Chinese leaders. During a 2006 business dinner attended by Schultz, then Chinese President Hu Jintao quipped that he would like to visit a Starbucks had he not been in his office. In 2012, Schultz was photographed meeting with Jiang Zemin.
Schultz is also a member of the business community in Washington state that as a group has attached great importance to fostering ties with Beijing. In 2015, Schultz joined top business leaders from the state, as well as the state’s all two U.S. Senators and 10 Members of Congress in a letter inviting Xi to visit the state.
Though the letter to Schultz is undoubtedly well thought out and intentionally directed, your host does not believe that Beijing is placing all its hope of mending ties with Washington on Schultz. In fact, the letter may have well been a subtle invitation for other business, political or academic leaders to seize the opportunity to “promote China-U.S. economic and trade cooperation as well as the two countries' relations”.
Recall earlier this month, when Tesla’s Elon Musk praised the Chinese government during an interview with Business Insider, Foreign Ministry’s Hua Chunying was quick to respond, calling Musk’s remarks as “objective” and said
Foreign friends free from bias and wishing to get an objective understanding of China will surely arrive at their own conclusion from the history of China's development in the past century and the changes taking place now. We welcome more foreign friends to come to China for tourism, study, work, sightseeing and visit so as to get a first-hand experience of the real China through their interactions with the Chinese people.
Or last month, when Xinhua released an unusual op-ed calling - twice - for a repetition of what Dr. Henry Kissinger did 50 years ago, visiting China and engaging in “deep conversation” with the Chinese leadership.
The coming year marks the 50th anniversary of Dr. Henry Kissinger's secret trip to China.
The top priority for the two countries now is to sit down, have a comprehensive, candid and in-depth dialogue, clarify the strategic intentions of both sides, and rebuild mutual trust. Dr. Kissinger made the trip to China about 50 years ago to have in-depth talks with Chinese leaders. Now, we once again call for such spirit and actions.
The op-ed, though ill-timed at just before Christmas, was covered in a Pekingnology newsletter by Zichen Wang.
As the United States is reeling from unprecedented domestic upheaval, the message from Beijing can be easily overlooked. But for anyone out there who firmly believes, as your host does, that at least we should get the ball rolling in Sino-U.S. ties, now is the time to act.
Against unprecedented Sino-U.S. tensions in the late years of Donald Trump’s soon-finished presidency and a bipartisan “awakening” on China, who among the political, business, and academic heavyweights would like to try becoming the next Kissinger?
While the ideological split between China and the United States in the 21st century is far smaller than the one Kissinger had to overcome, the balance of power between the two countries has significantly changed, posing a different set of challenges to build consensus between the two capitals.
After all, what Beijing may feel is a main dish could turn out to be just an appetizer for Washington? But at least the two would have something to eat at the same table.
On a related note, Reuters on Jan. 14 quoted a U.S. Chamber of Commerce official as saying the chamber is expecting a high-level Chinese delegation “early in the administration of President-elect Joe Biden.”
This newsletter is penned by Yang Liu, founder of Beijing Channel, with special thanks to Zichen Wang, who runs Pekingnology.
Yang’s writing While the ideological split between China and the United States in the 21st century is far smaller than the one Kissinger had to overcome comes as a reminder of how close China and the United States are today, compared with 50 years ago, when the heads of state were, respectively, Mao Zedong and Richard Nixon. With tensions so high and trust so low now, it is easy to lose sight of how impossible everything was back then.
But a lingering question on the side of the U.S. must be, as Bill Bishop, of Sinocism, asked: what is in there that is new compared to what senior Chinese diplomats have said on the topic in the last few months?
Please note both newsletters are PERSONAL, UNPAID initiatives, and do NOT represent the views of the founders’ employer or anybody else.
I think too much credit is given to Kissinger or any other individual. Kissinger was able to do what he did because the strategic situation made it in the interest of both America and China to align against a common foe. In order for there to be another "Kissinger" (e.g. a messenger), that messenger will need to bring an offer that fits the needs and imperatives of both parties.
What that offer is at this point is uncertain, but given that the greatest threat both China and US perceive is each other (at least at this point), I, unfortunately, think there can be no "Kissinger moment"
Conditions would have to change where one side and/or the other truly consider the other side not a threat in any shape or form, or some existential problem greater than the opposing side <mandates> cooperation. There's been talk that COVID-19 or global warming or terrorism could be that unifying enemy, but I think it is highly doubtful any of those is existentially threatening enough and requires cooperation to give that opening.
Maybe the best we can hope for is John Kerry making a limited climate deal between the US and China, but no one will mistake it for a Kissinger moment.