Former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger has praised renewed talks between the United States and China at a summit in Bali, but said a long path remains to prevent conflict between the world’s largest economies.
The 99-year-old Kissinger said the meeting between Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping on Monday kick-started a “bridge-building effort”, including with the resumption of cooperation in areas such as climate change and the global economy.
“The two leaders that met briefly will know the consequences of economic disaster and military impact on each other,” Kissinger said in virtual remarks to New Economy Forum in Singapore on Tuesday.
“All we can say today is that a method for discussion has been agreed on, and general statements have been made that are compatible with a cooperative world, but a long road still has to be undertaken.”
Kissinger was the architect of the rapprochement between the US and China in the 1970s.
Biden and Xi broke months of silence to meet on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Indonesia, after relations plunged to their worst level in decades over contentious issues including trade, technology, Taiwan and human rights.
The two leaders agreed there “need not be a new Cold War” between their nations, with the resumption of cooperation in areas such as climate change and a go-ahead for Secretary of State Antony Blinken to visit China in the coming months.
Kissinger said he was more optimistic now than he was two years ago, when he warned participants at the New Economy Forum that relations between the major powers were in the “foothills of a Cold War”.
Pressed on whether “extremists” in each country were dominating the political debate, he said that underscored why the meeting in Bali was so important.
“Thoughtful politics will have to be pursued and frank discussions need to be taking place, but the door at least has been opened,” Kissinger said.
Elsewhere in the region, he said South-east Asian nations, with Singapore in particular, would welcome the discussions between Beijing and Washington.
The smaller countries do not want a hegemon dominating their region and would “prefer to have the dialogue conducted rather than a confrontation carried out”, he said.
Turning to the war in Europe, Kissinger said countries need to focus on what their longer-term objectives are with Ukraine and Russia, and not be distracted by short-term pressures.
But he demurred on what Russian President Vladimir Putin would agree to, saying “there’s no question that for some people, Vladimir Putin is an obstacle to this vision”.
Kissinger said the war would only be able to end if Ukraine was able to keep its independence and borders intact, protected by a close relationship with Europe.
While Moscow should examine the concerns in Europe from its military capacity, there should be “attempts to bring Russia into the European system and into a relationship with Europe, on the comfortable basis that was done at the end of the Second World War with Germany”, he said.