Henry Kissinger, the 93-year-old foreign policy guru to world leaders, isn’t slowing down. On Wednesday he weighed in on Donald Trump’s pick of ExxonMobil chief Rex Tillerson as the top U.S. diplomat, the importance of the ‘One-China’ policy and the president-elect’s decision to take a phone call from Taiwan’s leader.
Speaking to the Committee of 100, a non-profit that works on improving U.S.-China relations, Kissinger dismissed criticism that Tillerson’s work winning contracts with Russia for Exxon disqualifies him for the State Department job.
“I pay no attention to the argument that he is too friendly to Russia,” Kissinger said. “As head of Exxon it’s his job to get along with Russia. He would be useless as the head of Exxon if he did not have a working relationship with Russia.”
Citing his acquaintance with Tillerson from serving together on the board of a Washington-based think tank, Kissinger praised Trump’s selection and added that “we should not think about these relationships as the personal relationship of individuals.”
A message left with Kissinger’s consulting company, Kissinger Associates, asking whether the firm has a financial relationship with Exxon, wasn’t immediately answered.
Weeks before he takes office on Jan. 20, Trump has injected an air of unpredictability into U.S. relations with both allies and adversaries. In addition to saying he wants friendlier ties with Russia, Trump has slammed China over currency and trade, had an unprecedented call with Taiwan’s leader, praised the Philippine president’s violent war on drugs and promised to visit Pakistan, a sign of validation President Barack Obama never bestowed on Islamabad.
That’s a lot of material for Kissinger, who brokered the U.S. rapprochement with China as Richard Nixon’s secretary of state more than four decades ago and has advised U.S. presidents ever since, to work with. With Trump heading to the White House next month, Kissinger continues to fulfill a role as unofficial adviser to the world’s most powerful leaders, visiting both Trump in his New York offices and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing since the Nov. 8 election.
Kissinger chided Trump for making Taiwan a key issue at the beginning of his dialogue with China, by taking a protocol-breaking phone call with the island’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, this month. He called the move “unwise” and “not the most efficient.” However, he said he is “hopeful, optimistic, and confident” that Trump will uphold the decades-old “One-China” policy and avoid diplomatic or formal relations with an island that China considers part of its territory.
“One should give these things a little time, the new administration isn’t in office yet,” he said. “Every president of the U.S. since 1971 and both parties have accepted this framework and once that framework is studied, I do not expect it to be overturned.”
Kissinger didn’t say what advice he gave the Chinese during his most recent visit, but the government’s official response to Trump’s Taiwan call was measured. While Beijing lodged a “solemn representation” — a mild form of diplomatic protest — and urged U.S. authorities to adhere to the so-called One-China principle, it stopped short of criticizing Trump.
“Some would argue that Trump’s out-of-the-line talk and behavior was meant to poke at China, and that the Chinese should retaliate,” the People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s flagship newspaper, said in a front-page story this month. “Otherwise he might think China is a soft persimmon, easy to pinch.” But the country “doesn’t throw a tantrum to strive for only temporary superiority, or to gain immediate gratification.”
(c) 2016, Bloomberg · Sangwon Yoon