On China

AuthorTodd Kline
PositionJudge Advocate, U.S. Navy
We cannot enter into alliance with neighboring princes
until we are acquainted with their designs.2
I. Introduction
On July 9, 1971, in the midst of the Cold War and the latter days of
the Vietnam Conflict, a delegation of American officials arrived in
Beijing on a secret mission. The goal: to explore the opening of formal
diplomatic ties with the People’s Republic of China.3 As National
Security Advisor to President Richard Nixon and leader of the team,
Henry Kissinger4 was in a unique position to directly observe and
participate at the inception of the United States’ formal relationship with
the most populous communist country on the planet.5
In On China, Kissinger applies his version of realpolitik6 to U.S.–
Chinese political relations; a subject made timely by China’s more recent
economic and military ascendancy. He asserts that China’s foreign policy
is based on pragmatic self-interest and that any effort to gain insight into
China’s modern and future diplomatic strategy must “begin with a basic
* Judge Advocate, U.S. Navy. Student, 60th Judge Advocate Officer Graduate Course,
The Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School, U.S. Army, Charlottesville,
2 SUN TZU WU, THE ART OF WAR (The Military Service Publishing Co., 1957).
3 KISSINGER, supra note 1, at 236–37; WALTER ISAACSON, KISSINGER 339–45 (1992).
4 WALTER ISAACSON, KISSINGER 135–53, 502–10 (1992) (Kissinger served as National
Security Advisor to President Richard Nixon from January 20, 1969, to November 3,
1975, and Secretary of State under President Nixon and President Gerald Ford from
September 22, 1973, to January 20, 1977.); ROBERT DALLECK, NIXON AND KISSINGER
515–16 (2007) (Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize in October 1973 for his role in
ending the Vietnam Conflict).
5 KISSINGER, supra note 1, at 236–37.
6 HENRY KISSINGER, DIPLOMACY 137 (1994). The author defines realpolitik as “foreign
policy based on calculations of power and the national interest.” As the most well-known
adherent of realpolitik, Kissinger’s application eschews national strategy based wholly or
in part on philosophical, ideological, or ethical principles in favor of practical
considerations of national security and projection of State power. “In paraphrasing
Goethe, Kissinger states that ‘If I had to choose between justice and disorder, on the one
hand, and injustice and order, on the other, I would always choose the latter,’ as ‘Moral
crusaders . . . made dangerous statesmen.’” ISSACSON, supra note 4, at 653.

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