Zbigniew Brzezinski – an unsung American hero in Sino-US relations

The low-profile diplomat and academic helped accelerate normalisation of US ties with China, observers say

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 May, 2017, 6:01am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 May, 2017, 6:01am

Zbigniew Brzezinski, the low-profile US diplomat who helped forge the idea that the United States and China should take the lead together to solve global problems, deserves more credit for shaping relations between the two countries, Chinese analysts said yesterday.

Brzezinski, former national security adviser to US president Jimmy Carter, died on Friday aged 89.

Zbigniew Brzezinski, ex-White House adviser and influential foreign policy expert, dies

Pang Zhongying, a specialist in US affairs at Renmin University, said Brzezinski strode the international stage and was central to many cold war moments after he was plucked from academia.

One of those pivotal moments was the Carter administration’s decision to speed up normalisation of relations with China as tensions rose between Beijing and Moscow.

“In such context, his contribution to China-US relations is significant,” Pang said.

In more recent years, Brzezinski championed the concept of the Group of Two, or G2, the idea that China and the US – the two largest economies and members of UN Security Council as well as the most prominent rising power and the strongest “status quo” power – should work together to address the big challenges facing the international system.

The idea attracted the attention of then US senator Barack Obama, who was eager to formulate his own foreign policy, and turned to Brzezinski for ­advice.

“There was a growing discussion over whether China and the US should step up cooperation, especially when the US and China had worked quite well with each other in easing the financial crisis. Brzezinski was believed to be one of the contributors to the G2 concept,” Pang said.

Pang recalled meeting Brzezinski in July 2009 when the former US diplomat was a professor of American foreign policy at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies.

“It seemed to me that China held an important role in his strategic thinking in his later years,” Pang said. “He was very low profile and humble, devoting his years to academia.

“When I raised a question about the economy, he told me frankly that he did not have a deep understanding of geo-economics. This to me is the kind of humility that should be appreciated by Chinese as this is what we value in Confucianism.”

China ties are too valuable for the US to throw away on a whim

Lu Xiang, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ American Studies Institute, also met Brzezinski several times while on a fellowship at John Hopkins between 2012 and 2013.

Lu said Brzezinski remained positive about the role China and the United States could play in the world.

“He often described relations between China and the US as ‘interlocking’ ties, saying that small conflicts wouldn’t made a big difference but grave conflicts could lead to destruction,” Lu said.

“I personally found him very ­inspiring.”