Henry Kissinger Warns Against All-Out, High-Tech Battle With China, Urges US to Ramp Up Its AI

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger cautioned against the U.S. and China escalating into an "all-out," high-tech conflict.

In an interview with the German newspaper Die Welt, the 97-year-old national security veteran said peaceful relations between the countries could continue if policies were enacted to restrain China's dominance in the tech sector. He further noted, "The U.S. needs to maintain a high level of performance in AI."

Kissinger said that while China must not have the upper hand in the tech arena, the U.S. must also keep up on its end to maintain its own capabilities.

"While both sides may have the theoretical capability of winning, neither side chooses to exercise it—they should limit it by some kind of understanding," he said. "Strive for it, because the alternative of an all-out conflict strains the imagination. The United States must always have an adequate defense. But in the hi-tech world, it must also work for coexistence."

Henry Kissinger
Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger speaks during the Department of State 230th Anniversary Celebration at the Harry S. Truman Headquarters building on July 29, 2019, in Washington, D.C. Getty

Kissinger spoke of President Joe Biden's administration trying to maintain the bilateral relationship but said he felt the American public opinion has become convinced that China is "an inherent enemy," and many people as a whole favored some form of confrontation.

However, he said those who believe in pressuring China's foreign policy to change would be met with "a maximum of resistance" from the Chinese government.

Kissinger said he was still learning of AI, saying the technology "is fascinating not only economically, but also philosophically, because it will change the nature of human thinking about reality, which will affect all of us."

On Thursday, Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi called for greater cooperation between the two countries, but he also said that Chinese people would not accept it if "anyone challenges the Chinese Communist Party or China's political system and leadership."

Meanwhile, Biden warned of China in his speech to a joint session of Congress on April 29. He said, "China and other countries are closing in fast" and Chinese President Xi Jinping is "deadly earnest about becoming the most significant, consequential nation in the world. He and others, autocrats, think that democracy can't compete in the 21st century with autocracies. It takes too long to get consensus."

Kissinger acknowledged the precariousness of relations between the U.S. and China. He also spoke of the danger of other countries taking advantage of the situation.

"If Europe pursues a policy of taking advantage of American-Chinese disagreement, it will make confrontations all the sharper and crises all the more overwhelming," he said.

"I am not in favor of a crusade against China. But I am in favor of developing a common strategic understanding so that the situation will not be inflamed further by constant maneuvering for advantage."

Kissinger, who was secretary of state under former presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford from 1973 to 1977, is credited with helping pave the way to formal diplomatic relations between China and the U.S., which didn't officially begin until 1979.

His role in Sino-American relations is seen as particularly important during the Nixon administration when he aided with Nixon's 1972 trip to China. Kissinger later wrote on Chinese history in regards to foreign diplomacy in his 2011 book On China.