My memory of a few interactions with Kissinger
Published: Dec 03, 2023 09:19 PM
Henry Kissinger. File photo: VCG

Henry Kissinger. File photo: VCG

When the tragic news of Dr. Henry Kissinger's death came, I was very sad, but not shocked. More than 20 hours before, I had heard that his condition was getting critical.

On October 11, I was invited to visit Dr. Kissinger in his office in New York. He was still in good spirits, quick in thinking, and very lively in conversation. In addition to China-US relations, the topic he was most concerned about was the recent Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He reviewed in detail his policy advice and personal involvement in the Palestinian-Israeli peace process when Ariel Sharon served as prime minister of Israel.

However, Kissinger's left forearm was bandaged during our conversation. His assistant told me that he fell twice in the past few days and injured his arm and back respectively, making him unable to stand. 

Before leaving, Kissinger himself also mentioned the tumbling to me. I comforted him and told him that I also broke my leg not long ago, but I recovered now and he would be fine as well. He said, "I am already 100 years old, but you are still young." I replied, "When I am 100 years old and you are 125 years old, I will come to see you again." He smiled happily. But I knew in my heart that the prognosis of the tumbling of a centenarian is very bad. 

During this long conversation, fondly recalled his meeting with President Xi Jinping in Beijing on July 20 this year. He said that President Xi chose to meet him in Villa No.5 of the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, where then premier Zhou Enlai held a meeting with him 52 years ago when the latter visited China for the first time. He was deeply moved by the standard of reception he received, which was higher than that of senior US government officials who visited China during the same period.

Kissinger mentioned that he and Professor Graham Allison of Harvard University would soon publish an article in the US magazine Foreign Affairs to provide policy suggestions for the China-US summit in San Francisco in November. This article was published on October 13, titled "The Path to AI Arms Control - America and China Must Work Together to Avert Catastrophe."

In recent years, he had focused on the study of artificial intelligence and its application in the field of national security, and published monographs. During the conversation, Kissinger suggested that the Chinese and American governments and private institutions conduct dialogue and cooperative research on artificial intelligence issues to prevent risks. He was willing to serve as the coordinator of the American side in nongovernmental dialogues. More than a month later, the China-US summit in San Francisco decided to establish an intergovernmental dialogue mechanism on artificial intelligence. This progress should have included the hard work of American experts such as Kissinger and Allison.

As a top international strategist, Kissinger was not content to sit back and talk even when he was aging. Instead, he traveled tirelessly to various countries around the world and had extensive contact with people from all walks of life. 

Whether it was about the Ukraine crisis or the Palestinian issue, his insights and initiatives could be heard, although some of them were controversial. His last visit to China at the age of 100 in July this year was a courageous decision against the pressure of certain public opinions in the US. It was also a huge encouragement to people in both countries who were working hard to bring bilateral relations out of the trough.

In the research field of international politics, Dr. Kissinger's name was synonymous with the foreign-policy doctrine called "realism," but he was criticized by some people for "lack of moral principles" and deviating from American idealism. In my opinion, he was a staunch defender of US national interests, but he did not confront US interests with Chinese interests, nor did he regard Western civilization and Chinese civilization as two conflicting parties.

Both of his two masterpieces in his later years, On China and World Order, have a rich philosophical foundation and historical depth. His moral values are more expressed in his opposition to resorting to force and preventing war. Needless to say, Kissinger had his own setbacks and mistakes in his personal political practice, but his profound insights into international affairs and his unremitting efforts to avoid international conflicts, especially his historic contribution to the development of China-US relations, made him achieve universal recognition as a contemporary giant. In April 2022, he published his last monograph "Leadership: Six Studies in World Strategy." It presents a treatise on governance and political leaders through six exemplary individuals from the 20th century. Now Kissinger can stand shoulder to shoulder with them.

Kissinger's education was profound. His love for the faculties and students of Peking University is worth remembering. In 2006, he went to Peking University to receive an honorary doctorate and delivered a speech. In November 2019, at the age of 96, he went to Peking University for the last time to have a discussion with professors and students and accepted a banquet hosted by the university president. 

During the meeting and the banquet, there was continuous laughter and applause, and there were many exciting moments. His shining eyes and charming demeanor while answering students' impromptu questions were the moments that touched my soul the most during my many interactions with him. 

Although he has passed away, the academic achievements and spiritual legacy left by him are enough for many generations of us scholars to continue to study and ponder deeply.

The author is a professor emeritus at the School of International Studies, Peking University. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn