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China-US relations

Kissinger urges greater cooperation with China as ‘the world’s centre of gravity’ shifts

US elder statesman tells a Columbia University conference the only alternative to positive relations between Washington and Beijing is global destruction

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 September, 2017, 4:19am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 September, 2017, 7:29pm

US elder statesman Henry Kissinger urged greater cooperation with Beijing on its Eurasian infrastructure investment plan, arguing that Washington needs to acknowledge that “the world’s centre of gravity” is shifting.

Speaking at a conference that featured China’s vice-premier Liu Yandong as a keynote speaker, Kissinger said the only alternative to positive relations between Washington and Beijing is global destruction. Liu, in turn, said China’s economy will open more after the government’s key political meeting in Beijing next month.

“China’s Belt and Road Initiative, in seeking to connect China to Central Asia and eventually to Europe will have the practical significance of shifting the world’s centre of gravity from the Atlantic to the Pacific and will involve the cultures of Eurasia, each of whom will have to decide what relationship to this region they will see, and so will the United States,” Kissinger said.

“It is said by many scholars that never before has a power grown in one region as China is doing and that its interaction will lead to tensions and maybe even war. We do not have this choice. That would be a road to the disaster and would do to the world what World War II did to Europe.”

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Kissinger, who laid the groundwork for former President Richard Nixon’s historic visit to China in 1972, and Liu addressed hundreds of students and faculty at the US-China University Presidents Forum at Columbia University in New York. Liu’s one-week tour in the US will culminate in a formal Sino-US dialogue on social and cultural issues on September 28, to be co-chaired by the vice-premier and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

The Belt and Road plan is supported by China’s Silk Road infrastructure fund of US$40 billion, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank with its registered capital of US$100 billion and the New Development Bank of the BRICS countries, with initial capital of US$50 billion, set to increase to US$100 billion.

“Many of us urged the United States to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank when it was proposed by China,” as a way for the US and China to solidify the bilateral relationship, Kissinger said.

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The Chinese government has been more vocal recently in presenting Belt and Road projects as investment opportunities for US companies. Last week, China’s Ambassador to Washington Cui Tiankai said: “We very much welcome participation by American companies. This initiative is not about getting an upper hand in geopolitical or geostrategic rivalry.”

Liu addressed trade and investment in her speech to students at Columbia, promising more openness sometime after next month but without providing any specifics.

“We will promote supply side structural reform so production will better meet demand. We also aim to build a new system for the open economy and open up wider after the 19th CPC national congress. China’s opening up will never stop; China will only open up wider,” Liu said, referring to the once-every-five years Communist Party congress on October 18.

President Xi Jinping, whom Liu credited with improving China’s economy through technology and innovation, will seek to consolidate his grip on power in next month’s meeting.

However, China’s technology sector has been a source of friction for US businesses. With few exceptions, US companies must share intellectual property with their local joint-venture partners to do business in China.

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Last month, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer began a formal investigation into whether China’s intellectual property policies are “unreasonable or discriminatory” under section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974. The investigation could take up to a year, and possible outcomes include a negotiated agreement with China, unilateral US remedies or a dispute settlement process in the World Trade Organisation.

Democrats and Republicans generally support the investigation, with the only vocal dissent coming from lawmakers who demand more immediate action. Kissinger avoided any specific references to these outstanding trade and investment issues, focusing instead on higher-level ideas and expounding on his vision for a new world order with the US and China at the centre.

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The former secretary of state elaborated on a theme central to US President Donald Trump’s speech to the United Nations last week, where Trump suggested Washington was willing to accept differences in ideology to face down global threats such as North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme.

“It will be imperative that we work together to lift our relationship from the pragmatic, and from the day-to-day solving of problems to the conceptual, to the creation of a new encompassing concept of a world order that promotes peace and human progress as we are now doing on the Korean issue,” Kissinger said.

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“They must see a concept not of security but of co-evolution in which two great societies can exist side by side, occasionally pursuing different objectives, but merging them in a common protection of the necessities and the opportunities that are the imperative of our age.

“Our challenge is to find a way for American exceptionalism and China’s dreams to produce a new world order for the benefit of all.”