The wisdom of Solomon still relevant to US-China ties
The devotion of the late diplomat and scholar Richard Solomon to creating understanding between the two countries 40 years ago resonates today
As expectations rise of a much-awaited summit between President Xi Jinping (習近平 ) and his US counterpart Donald Trump next month, there are few left who can recall the historic thawing of the diplomatic ice between China and the United States 40-odd years ago. Former president Richard Nixon’s national security adviser and later secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, now 93, is one. Sadly, one of his advisers at the time, “ping-pong” diplomat and China scholar Richard Harvey Solomon, died earlier this month aged 79.
Solomon spearheaded the “ping-pong diplomacy” during the 1970s that helped draw China and the US into one another’s diplomatic orbit, and led to the normalisation of relations in 1978-79.
The events of those times may seem remote from China’s emergence as a 21st century global power. But the coming summit, aimed at reducing economic and security tensions through building constructive ties and managing divisive issues, is a reminder that Solomon’s signature diplomacy remains relevant today.
In the words of a US Department of State spokesman in Washington, Solomon was a diplomat, peacemaker and scholar who devoted his life to building bridges between the US and East Asia. His appointment as an adviser to Kissinger by the National Security Council in 1971, when Kissinger was leading Nixon’s diplomatic overtures to an isolated China, shaped the direction of his career.
Within a year Nixon and Kissinger were in China and Solomon was escorting a Chinese table tennis team around the US, an important step in reciprocal trust building. Evidence of his abiding devotion to helping US policymakers comprehend a closed society is seen in his published books.They include Chinese Negotiating Behaviour (1985 and 2000), American Negotiating Behaviour (2007) and Mao’s Revolution and the Chinese Political Culture (1971, 1999).
Xi’s remark, after the latest talks with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson earlier this week, that ties would proceed in the right way if defined by cooperation and friendship, resonates with Solomon’s professional principles.