China's inevitable rise risks conflict: Kissinger

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s rise as a global power is inevitable and could lead to conflict unless Beijing and Washington can cooperate to create a new global order, former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said on Tuesday.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger delivers a speech at the Graduate University of Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing April 3, 2007. REUTERS/Joe Chan

Kissinger first came to Beijing in 1971, on a secret mission to re-establish Sino-U.S. ties after more than two decades of diplomatic silence.

Since then, economic reforms have turned China into a powerhouse. Beijing is now running a trade surplus with the United States that Washington last year put at $230 billion, and helps keep its rival afloat by buying vast amounts of U.S. debt.

Washington politicians have also sparred with Beijing over issues related to its rapid development from currency controls to military spending and foreign policy in countries like Sudan.

But Kissinger said China’s growing political and economic prominence was irreversible, and if the two nations could not cooperate it raised the specter of war.

“When friends and colleagues in the United States talk about the rise of China and the problems it presents to us, I say the rise is inevitable. There is nothing we can do to prevent it, there is nothing we should do to prevent it,” Kissinger said.

“When the centre of gravity moves from one region to another, and another country becomes suddenly very powerful, what history teaches you is that conflict is inevitable. What we have to learn is that cooperation is essential,” he said in a lecture to the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Challenges ranging from nuclear proliferation to increasingly tight energy supplies and environmental degradation needed to be tackled together.

“I look at Sino-American relations as a challenge to build a new international system based on human insight, on cooperative action, to avoid catastrophe,” Kissinger said.

“Those of you who are students and who will be shaping the world should not think of the other country as adversaries.”

Kissinger insisted the world must avoid exoticizing China. When he first came to Beijing, he said, his prepared speech contained a line about reaching a “mysterious country”, prompting a challenge by master diplomat Zhou Enlai, then China’s premier.

“Zhou Enlai put up his hand and said ‘What is so mysterious about China? There are 900 million of us and it is not mysterious to us.’ That was an important lesson,” Kissinger said.