In Kissinger’s shadow: how will history judge Blinken’s diplomatic manoeuvring on China and Russia?
- Kissinger opened the door to relations with China with his 1971 trip to Beijing and bagged the secretary of state job two years later
- Today, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken appears to have alienated China, while National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan seems to be keeping lines of communication open
When Henry Kissinger speaks, the world listens. The former US secretary of state’s address to the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland, on May 23 was no exception.
Aged 99, Kissinger remains true to the theory of the balance of power that he has long championed by appealing for Russia, now widely deemed the outright invader of its neighbour Ukraine, not to be completely isolated and for the US-China adversarial relationship to be eased.
Rapprochement with China and the subsequent detente with the Soviet Union earned Kissinger more of Nixon’s confidence and enabled him to one-up then secretary of state William Rogers in their ongoing power struggles and eventually take the latter’s place in 1973.
Given that US President Joe Biden will turn 80 this year and that his vim and vigour have been questioned in some quarters of his country, the combination of Blinken and Sullivan is supposed to ensure that the US’ diplomatic engine is firing on all cylinders.
Soon after Biden’s inauguration in January last year, the pair got off to a quick start in meeting the two identified major challenges to the United States: China and Russia.
This means that, just over 50 years on from Nixon’s historic trip to Beijing, the world finds itself again in a grand triangular relationship, involving the US, Russia and China.
The difference is that the US in Kissinger’s day started to align itself with China against the Soviet Union, while today the US is targeting both Beijing and Moscow amid, in Biden’s own words at the US Naval Academy’s class of 2022 graduation ceremony on May 27, “a global struggle between autocracies and democracies”.
Blinken, as the US’ top diplomat, champions Biden’s binary notation of diplomacy, but he has hit a snag with China and Russia, one that is increasingly acutely visible now. For one, he has apparently been downgraded in diplomacy with China; he and Yang haven’t been in touch since June last year.
Thus, it’s not surprising Sullivan’s suggestion, made a day after his conversation with Yang in May, that Biden may soon talk with Xi again, has gone unheeded in Beijing.
Kissinger squeezed himself into history books by prying open the door to China and manoeuvring to achieve a detente with the Soviet Union, paving his way to taking the top diplomatic spot from Rogers. Could Blinken lose his office to Sullivan for going too far in alienating both China and Russia? That may sound far-fetched, but time will tell.
Terry Su is president of Lulu Derivation Data Ltd, a Hong Kong-based online publishing house and think tank specialising in geopolitics