Diplomats speak a strange, sometimes amoral language as part of their trade, yet even allowing for this, former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger’s mini-essay on Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) in Time magazine this week was wholly objectionable. It also illuminated a mindset that continues to dominate the US State Department, to the cost of both the US and Taiwan.
Personal praise of Hu aside, Kissinger only turned to the key issue late in the piece, arguing that while the US president is “obliged to articulate the deepest values of our people, including human rights ... Any Chinese President needs to reflect the necessities of his society, including the territorial integrity of a united China.”
In two simple sentences, readers could appreciate the stark distinction that exists in the conception of statehood for the most powerful country in the world and the pretender to that throne.
In the US, the people are the source of power and the creators of values. In China, the people are voiceless and defined by what they “need” rather than what they aspire to. And of all the things they need, apparently, “territorial integrity” is the thing that China privileges above all else, regardless of the opinions of its subjects or the fact that China is under no external territorial threat.
Regrettably, there is a sense that Kissinger approves of this philosophical state of affairs, or at least considers the autocratic Chinese mindset to be reasonable and natural.
What Kissinger does not say, but knows all too well, is that Chinese expansionism and patriotism are indistinguishable as far as the Chinese Communist Party is concerned, and Hu, the man of the hour, is its chief protagonist.
Instead, Kissinger prefers to indulge in pseudo-sociological claptrap, arguing that Hu is “not a crusader,” whatever that means, and has “proclaimed the goal of a harmonious society whose components work together by consensus rather than direction.”
Putting aside Hu’s “harmonious” butchery in Tibet when he was in charge there in the late 1980s, the obvious question emerges: How does Kissinger distinguish between “consensus” and “direction” when the former has been in the service of the latter in China for thousands of years? Chinese societies, regardless of their political structure, continue to prefer the appearance of consensus to the potentially beneficial public expression of division, and the biggest Chinese society of all continues to justify awful repression in the name of this “consensus.” (Kissinger’s suggestion that Hu’s approach to governance is a “marked evolution from Mao Zedong (毛澤東)” is also facile. Mao was a mass murderer and an egomaniac; every Chinese leader since has represented a “marked evolution” of some sort.)
The so-called “1992 consensus” between Taiwan and China on how to interpret the meaning of “one China” is a beautiful example of the Chinese autocrat trumping the historical record in the name of “consensus.” There was no such agreement, but that no longer matters, because top officials in China, Taiwan and the US now claim it is real.
For China and for some in Taiwan and the US, it is preferable to proceed on the basis of a fictional agreement than on the cold reality of conflict. But as Kissinger might acknowledge, given his lamentable record of backing criminal regimes around the world, sowing lies has its eventual dreadful harvest.