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On China, by Henry Kissinger

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In Kissinger’s view, China, though it does see itself as exceptional, does not proselytize or claim that its institutions are relevant outside China. American “exceptionalism,” in contrast, is missionary, as Kissinger describes it. Americans believe in internationally recognized universal values, such as freedom and
human rights. He argues that in order to reduce human rights violations in China, the US must engage the Chinese Communist Party and not confront it: “Once enough confidence has been established, changes in civil practice can be advocated in the name of common purpose or at least the preservation of a common interest.”

When it comes to the Chinese army’s bloody Tiananmen crackdown on unarmed protesters in June 1989, however, Kissinger stops short of condemning the action. He explains that for Deng Xiaoping, the paramount leader at the time, the Tiananmen protests “stirred the historical Chinese fear of chaos and memories of the Cultural Revolution – whatever the stated goals of the demonstrators.”

Kissinger then goes on to state that “This is not the place to examine the events that led to the tragedy at Tiananmen Square; each side has its different perspectives depending on the various, often conflicting, origins of their participation in the crisis.” The closest he gets to a condemnation of the massacre is to acknowledge that the suppression was “harsh.”

Kissinger also says that given its cultural background, China has historically not sought to impose its values on others. But this is not at all the case today. One need only look at the colonial aspects of China’s repressive actions in Tibet and Xinjiang, where Beijing is imposing its own institutions, controlling monasteries and mosques, and mandating the teaching of the Chinese language to the detriment of the local languages.

Toward the end of the book, Kissinger offers some prescriptions for how the US and China can work together to maintain a stable, peaceful Asia. He suggests that we should elevate crisis discussions with China into a more “comprehensive,” multilateral framework that seeks to eliminate the underlying causes of tension.

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