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Transcript: Henry Kissinger in Conversation With Orville Schell

Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (L) with Orville Schell, Director of Asia Society's Center on U.S.-China Relations (R), in Washington on June 15, 2011. (Les Talusan/Asia Society Washington Center)

Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (L) with Orville Schell, Director of Asia Society's Center on U.S.-China Relations (R), in Washington on June 15, 2011. (Les Talusan/Asia Society Washington Center)

WASHINGTON, June 15, 2011 — Dr. Henry Kissinger, Nobel Peace Prize winner and former U.S. Secretary of State, was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Asia Society Washington Awards Dinner here at the Ritz-Carlton. He appeared on stage in conversation with Orville Schell, Arthur Ross Director of the Asia Society's Center on U.S.-China Relations. Following is a transcript of their conversation.

HENRY KISSINGER: It's a great privilege to be here and I deeply appreciate the words of the Ambassador [Zhang Yesui] and of my old friend Ronnie Chan.

ORVILLE SCHELL: Well, maybe we should start with what the Ambassador said at the end, that the challenge is to try to find some way for the U.S.-China relationship to move from crisis to crisis to something of a more common or shared nature. How are we going to do that?

HK: Well, we are now in an international situation for which there is no precedent in history. On the one hand, there is turmoil in many parts of the world. At the same time, there is a series of problems that can only be dealt with on a global basis. Issues like environment, energy, nuclear proliferation, cyberspace. And that makes it imperative for the two strongest nations that are existing in the world today to move in a cooperative manner, because if they don't, every issue in the world will become an issue between great powers, and the danger of matters getting out of control and the loss of the possibility for creative joint efforts would be a tragedy.

OS: So, any evolution of a relationship really needs actors to do something. What do you think both the United States and China, the leadership of each of these two countries, could do, and perhaps should do, to try to move us substantially in the right direction?

HK: The leaders of the two countries now meet quite frequently, but it is in the nature of day-to-day policy that they tend to concentrate on the issues that are before them at the moment. What needs to be done as a next step is to try to discuss a vision of the future that we would like to bring about, both China and the United States. And if we then think of common projects that can be done jointly so that there is an experience of working together, not only in the abstract, but on a series of concrete issues that are before us. And that is why in my book I talk about a Pacific community that links us together in some joint enterprises. And what these are, that is, what should be determined in these meetings and then they should be supported by so called track-two efforts that can be done through organizations such as this, where serious concerned individuals try to fill in the design.

OS: Here, I should tell all of you who've not done so, Dr. Kissinger's book, I've been finding it extremely interesting. It's a curious book, because it begins with history for about half of it and then it goes into your life, your experience, and you clearly have a fascination with history. And I wonder, given that sort of study that you did to find sort of the roots of Chinese conceptions of diplomacy, what do you think the Chinese vision of the future is? Where do you think that the history as China is living it is moving towards?

HK: That's really a very good question.

OS: You wrote a dissertation, did you not, on Hegel?

HK: I wrote a dissertation of staggering profundity ...

OS: Let's reduce it down to the fact that ...

HK: Not on Hegel, but on Spengler, Toynbee and Kahn. As an undergraduate. It was ...

OS: Well, let's focus a little bit on the motion of history.

HK: I think both China and the United States face this problem. We both believe we are an exceptional society, that we have values of universal relevance. Americans tend to believe that they can be spread by conversion, that everybody can learn them. The Chinese believe, first that they are bound by the Chinese culture and that the Chinese influence spreads by example rather than by conversion. China has not had until recently an experience of having to deal with countries of similar magnitude, so what China would probably attempt to do is to apply, to see to what extent some of the Confucian principles can be applied to international affairs, and that is not necessarily incompatible with what Americans believe. And in any event we have to learn to use, to understand each other's fundamental approach and relate them to the common ground.