Henry Kissinger and the symbolism of Diaoyutai in China

The symbolism of the meetings between Kissinger, the national security advisor to former President Richard Nixon at the time, and the Chinese Prime Minister at the time Zhou Enlai, stemmed from the many stages of hostility between the two parties, as well as paving the way for a historic strategic partnership between Washington and Beijing in that era.  While Kissinger has visited Beijing frequently since leaving office and delivered many speeches there, his current visit carried a special significance as it comes amid a sharp decline in relations with the United States of America. It was also symbolic that Chinese officials chose (Villa No. 5 of the official Chinese state guesthouse “Diaoyutai”), which is the same building in which Henry Kissinger met Zhou Enlai, then Chinese Prime Minister, more than 50 years ago.  The warm reception of Kissinger itself by the Chinese Minister of Defense, General, Li Shangfu, was the subject of American and international interest, given the warm Chinese welcome to him, compared to the Chinese Minister of Defense’s refusal to meet his counterpart, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, a while ago during the security summit known as the “Shangri-La Dialogue” in Singapore, due to Washington imposing sanctions on him that prevented him from visiting the United States of America as a result of China’s purchase of weapons from Russia in 2018. Here the American provocation of China came through its Ministry of Foreign Affairs by refusing to lift the sanctions on the Chinese Minister of Defense, General Li Shangfu, despite being the current Minister of Defense.

 The administration of US President Joe Biden is currently focusing on the issue of technological competition with China, and this is the same as confirmed by the US coordinator for the Indo-Pacific region, Kurt Campbell, at the Hudson Institute forum in June 2023, that: “technology will be the advanced arena for global competition in the coming period in the way between China and the United States of America, just as nuclear missiles were the hallmark of the Cold War period in the past”. Here, diplomacy between America and China entered a worrying phase due to the deterioration of relations between the two sides in recent years, due to the visit of Congressional Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan in August 2022, which led China to raise the pace of its anger, especially after the approval of the (21st Century Trade Initiative) between Washington and the Taiwanese capital, Taipei, in addition to the increase in US military sales to Taiwan. This aroused Beijing’s massive ire and anger towards politicians in the White House in the United States of America.  

  Today, as China and the United States of America rush towards confrontation, the symbolism of Kissinger’s visit to China comes as an indirect American call to the policy of openness to Beijing, as the true beginning of nearly fifty years of wrongful engagement and hostility between its parties.  The policy of openness to China during the period of President Nixon and his adviser at the time Kissinger was a smart policy on both sides, and helped win the Cold War and changed China’s relationship with the United States of America and even the world at large during that era, thanks to the policy of fundamental re-evaluation of American policies on China, and the adoption of a new principle in American foreign policy, called the marriage of geopolitical interest between Washington and Beijing, which was approved in 1971.  Kissinger was given the title “The Fox of American Diplomacy” thanks to his success in ending the Cold War period with China, thanks to his well-known policy among academics and researchers globally, with the “realistic policy” approach, through his treatment of those events and political transformations during that period of cold conflict between Washington and Beijing, by setting aside those ideological and ideal foundations in a back seat to achieve the American national interest in the first place.

  From my point of view, the significance of Kissinger’s visit to China at the present time is to recall the importance of dialogue between all its parties, which paved the way for China more than 50 years ago to rise and break its international isolation, while gaining access to global institutions and the global economy. In addition to the success of China’s economic openness policy over more than 50 years in making China among the leading powers around the world, thanks to its access to advanced technology and high-quality military goods from the United States of America itself after the start of the era of openness immediately after the visit of former President Nixon to China and his advisor Kissinger more than 50 years ago, China has succeeded in investing its openness to the world by obtaining aid, trade, and numerous and diverse investments from the United States of America and then Japan, Washington’s ally now. The openness initiated by Kissinger created the necessary global conditions for the rise of China.

  Here Kissinger’s visit to China, comes in a sign to confirm that the potential conflict between the United States and China, given the current weapons, could threaten to “destroy civilization.” Therefore, Kissinger’s speech was confirmed to both parties, that: “The most important thing for us is the dialogue between the two leaders, and their agreement that they have the most dangerous means in the world and that they will manage their policy in a way that reduces the possibility of a military conflict breaking out between them, or the use of these means”. In addition to Kissinger’s earlier indication that China seeks security, not global hegemony, although it seeks to be the superpower in the region and the world, and Kissinger’s assertion that we are now living in a completely new era, because the geopolitical situation in the world will witness major shifts after the end of the Ukraine war, which must be aware of and realized by both the United States of America and China regarding their confrontation with each other. Therefore, Henry Kissinger warned against entering into a second cold war, because it would be more dangerous than the first from his point of view, while respecting Kissinger’s point of view, it is “not worth waiting for China to become Western-leaning”.

Dr.Nadia Helmy
Dr.Nadia Helmy
Associate Professor of Political Science, Faculty of Politics and Economics / Beni Suef University- Egypt. An Expert in Chinese Politics, Sino-Israeli relationships, and Asian affairs- Visiting Senior Researcher at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES)/ Lund University, Sweden- Director of the South and East Asia Studies Unit