Book Review: A New Cold War: Henry Kissinger and the Rise of China

Insightful commentaries on geopolitical dynamics that shapes our world today

By Gopika Nair

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Published: Thu 20 Jan 2022, 11:47 PM

Last updated: Fri 21 Jan 2022, 7:40 PM

Five decades have passed since former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger embarked on a secret trip to China and changed the course of history. Kissinger’s trip in 1971 engendered the China we know today. The two global superpowers — US and China — are now engaged in an intense tug of war, jockeying for everything from technology to military might. Which country will emerge as the victor? While speaking at the Bloomberg New Economy Forum in Singapore in November, Kissinger, now 98, underlined that neither would — at least not without destroying humanity.

Kissinger’s most recent words are emblematic of his approach to diplomacy, which is outlined in A New Cold War: Henry Kissinger and the Rise of China. Edited by political commentator Sanjaya Baru and former newspaper editor Rahul Sharma, the collection of essays examines how Kissinger’s visit led to China’s historic rise, and, in essence, set the stage for a “new cold war”.

The book is divided into two sections — the first comprises essays examining the global implications of the US-China reset, while the other analyses the process from the perspective of several countries, including Japan, India and Pakistan. The essays seamlessly trace the “new normal” that the US and China developed in the 1970s and ’80s, as well as the growing tensions that accompanied the relationship.

One of the oft-asked questions is whether Kissinger’s visit brought about the rise of China. Teresita C. Schaffer astutely notes in her essay that “his overture to China created circumstances that made China’s rise more likely”. To understand the factors that changed the course of the country, Schaffer suggests looking within China itself, which “made fundamental decisions that turned an opportunity into a change in the country’s trajectory”.

That’s not to say America didn’t play a role in its own undoing. The country’s fall from grace can be attributed to three strategic mistakes, which Kishore Mahbubani outlines in his essay. America’s failure to pay attention to the living standards of its own population; thoughtlessly expanding Nato; and recklessly waging wars in the Middle East were all contributing factors. “These three key strategic mistakes made by the US in the post-Cold War era have harmed US interests and effectively helped China’s interests,” writes Mahbubani.

Overall, the essayists have presented insightful stories that are topical and relevant to US-China relations today, which serve as a prism to the contemporary geopolitical climate. The editors have demonstrated an in-depth understanding of the subject — and its relevance to readers anywhere in the world — by selecting insightful commentaries that stand the test of time.

As the world once again grapples with the potential impact of US-China relations, the book is a must-read for all those who want to gain a true understanding of the geopolitical dynamics that shapes our world. As they say, in the era of misinformation, understanding a complex, organic and evolving issue calls for probing deeper into the core of any problem. That is why such books matter, rather than shallow social media knowledge shots.

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