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China-US relations

Henry Kissinger: China, US must reveal red lines to avoid conflict

  • China’s continued growth means Washington and Beijing will inevitably “step on each others’ toes”, says American former secretary of state, 95
  • But he is “optimistic” about US-China ties, saying problems can be worked through if each side is clear about the concessions they are willing to make
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 November, 2018, 1:09pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 November, 2018, 9:42pm

Speak openly to each other about your red lines and the concessions you are willing to make to avoid conflict.

That was Henry Kissinger’s advice to feuding world powers on Tuesday, as he warned Washington and Beijing an all-out conflict between them would destroy the current world order.

Speaking at the Bloomberg New Economy Forum in Singapore, the American former secretary of state, 95, who is widely respected for his prescient views on geopolitics, said it was inevitable that the world’s two biggest economies would “step on each others’ toes” as the Asian power continued to grow rapidly.

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“The challenge is to maintain a fundamentally cooperative relationship amid inherent differences of approach,” Kissinger said.

He said: “It is essential for China and the United States to [talk] to each other about what the objectives are that they feel they must achieve and what the concessions are that they must not be asked to make, and the concessions each is willing to make.”

Kissinger, who played a key role in Washington’s rapprochement with Beijing in 1971, said both sides could do better in dealing with one another.

In the US, Kissinger said, officials needed to learn that “not every crisis is caused by ill will” and that there was a “difference between educating people and learning to cooperate with them”.

Washington also tended to believe that “if there is a problem, there is a short-term solution,” he said.

The US, he said, needed “to understand that the new world is not necessarily an adaptation of everything with which we are familiar”.

Beijing, on the other hand, was bogged down by its view that admitting to a problem would lead to more problems rather than conflict resolution, he said.

In negotiating, both sides needed to avoid being bogged down by details before “you know where you want to go”, he said.

“The mechanisms for dialogue exists … but it has to be defined in a manner in which not every disagreement on a commercial matter turns into a test case.”

Speaking for just under 20 minutes in a dialogue with Bloomberg’s editor-in-chief John Micklethwait, the veteran diplomat repeatedly said he was “optimistic” about the US-China relationship despite the current difficulties.