Henry Kissinger “On China,” and at the Opera

The ever-prolix Henry Kissinger has a new book on U.S.-China relations forthcoming, entitled On China.  Advance copies reviewed here by the New York Times; Kissinger is interviewed by NPR here.

Since copies of the text will not be available to we mortals on the Northwest for another week or more — even those of us with Japan connections in the form of a Kinokuniya Bookstore — it might be useful to review for a moment some of the former Harvard professor, National Security Advisor, and Secretary of State in his writings on China.

And thus to musical diplomacy!

Thanks to his extensive briefing books (which are available to researchers in the Nixon Presidential Library materials currently housed in Washington, D.C., and which I have consulted), during his trip to China in October 1971, Kissinger was supremely attuned to messages intended for him in cultural shows presented to him by the Chinese Communist government.  Thus his attendance at “The White Haired Girl” by the CCP, a revolutionary ballet performed by the Central Ballet Company of China, merits a bit of analysis.

The White Haired Girl (Bai Mao Nü, 白毛努) tells the story of the suffering life of a peasant girl who is saved from a life of servitude by the revolutionary leader.  This sought after story had been portrayed in the movie before the ballet and was extremely effective in provoking hatred feelings to the old system.[1]  The government was impressed by the impact of the movie, like many others, the CCP artists sought to transform this most moving story into the other artistic sphere of ballet.  However, in his memoirs concerning this performance (White House Years, p. 779), Kissinger panned the opera:

On the evening of October 22 we were taken to the Great Hall of the People to see a ‘revolutionary’ Peking opera — an art form of truly stupefying boredom in which villains were the incarnation of evil and wore black, good guys wore red, and as far as  I could make out the girl fell in love with a tractor.

Now that is an acid pen!

Of course, at the time, he was highly complementary to the CCP leaders about the show and even described its message in some detail in his dispatches debriefing Richard Nixon about the trip.

Later, Kissinger would open the way to a trip by the Philadelphia Orchestra to China in September 1973, which itself was the result of Zhou Enlai’s victory in the internal debate with Jiang Qing, over the role that Beethoven should play in the musical and ideological life of the Chinese elites in Beijing and Shanghai.  Kissinger describes the action iduring his fifth visit to China in February 1973 in his Years of Upheaval, p. 45.

Of course, when Zhou Enlai is saying things like the following to Kissinger directly, recalling the failed attempt on the Chinese Premiere’s life in 1955 on his way to Bandung, it is hard to imagine that he also had energy to take on the cultural bureaucrats in Shanghai, but he did:

As for international hijacking, we do not approve those activities.  It’s too unreasonable.  Such adventurous acts are not a good practice, regardless of the motives behind it, whether it is revolutionary or of a saboteur nature.  I say these not as superfluous words but to explain how people of the world think of the CIA.  As for we ourselves, we are not very much excited by the CIA..[Memorandum of Conversation with Zhou Enlai, Henry Kissinger and Winston Lord, 21 October 1971, Beijing, Foreign Relations of the United States 1969-1976, Vol. XVII, pp. 503-504.]

North Korean Abductions in China? A Source Review

Thanks to the publication of an extensive report from the Committee on North Korean Human Rights on the subject of North Korean abductions, there is an excellent conversation going on at the indespensible blog for North Korean-China issues, One Free Korea, regarding the nature and the veracity of allegations that China allows North Korean agents into the PRC to hunt down and abduct people who are judged to be enemies of the DPRK.

The committee’s report, cited below and at at One Free Korea, asserts that North Korea has abducted about 200 people from China in the last twelve years or so.

See: Yoshi Yamamoto, Taken! North Korea’s Criminal Abduction of Citizens of Other Countries (Committee on North Korean Human Rights, May 2011) http://www.piie.com/blogs/TAKEN-Final-Proof.pdf

See Also

Mike Kim, Escaping North Korea (Rowman & Littlefield, 2008), pp. 33-35.

Adam Cathcart, “Allegations of Rogue North Korean Agents in Chinese Border Region, Sinologistical Violoncellist, 31 August 2009, https://adamcathcart.wordpress.com/2009/08/31/allegations-of-rogue-north-korean-agents-in-chinese-border-region/

Adam Cathcart, “Fistfuls of Chinese Earth, Breaths of Conspiracy, Fusillades of Propaganda,” Sinologistical Violoncellist, 3 September 2009, https://adamcathcart.wordpress.com/2009/09/03/fistfuls-of-chinese-earth-breaths-of-conspiracy-fusillades-of-propaganda/

Joshua Stanton, “For North Korean Spies, Sending Refugees to the Gulag is Entry Level Work,” One Free Korea, 19 April 2010 http://www.freekorea.us/2010/04/19/for-north-korean-spies-sending-refugees-to-the-gulag-is-entry-level-work/

Joshua Stanton, “Ten Years Later, South Korea Questions North Korean Agent in U.S. Resident’s Kidnapping,” One Free Korea, 16 January 2010 http://www.freekorea.us/2010/01/16/ten-years-later-south-korea-questions-suspected-north-korean-agent-in-us-residents-kidnapping/

Chosun Ilbo, “North Korean Abduction Squad Roams Freely Through China,” January 19, 2005 http://english.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2005/01/19/2005011961043.html

Chosun Ilbo, “Ethnic Korean ‘Mole’ Helped N.K. Agents Abduct Pastor in China,” 14 December 2004  http://english.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2004/12/14/2004121461025.html

Chosun Ilbo Editorial, “N.K. Should Avoid Provocation and Return Kim,” 14 December 2011 http://english.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2004/12/14/2004121461036.html

Chosun Ilbo, “N.K. Abducted 40 from 1999 to 2001,” Jan. 19 2005 http://english.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2005/01/19/2005011961017.html

Chosun Ilbo, “Beijing Turns Blind Eye to North Korean Kidnappings,” 19 January 2005 http://english.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2005/01/19/2005011961031.html

Huanqiu Shibao [Global Times, Beijing], “韩国派特工在中国调查电话诈骗案/Hanguo pai tegong zai Zhongguo diaocha dianhua zapian an [The Incident of South Korea Sending Spies to China to Investigate Telephone Blackmail],” http://world.huanqiu.com/roll/2009-09/564229.html 

Lee Hae Young, Lives for Sale: Personal Accounts of Women Fleeing North Korea for China, U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, 2009 http://www.hrnk.org/download/Lives_for_Sale.pdf 

Trashing Diplomatic Etiquette, or Just Empty Cannon Shots? Huanqiu Shibao Weighs in on Clinton’s ‘Fool’s Errand’ Comment

There has been an immense amount of action which has occurred in the U.S.-China relation in the past week, actions about which, being on several “fool’s errands” of my own, I nevertheless hope to comment upon.

At the end of a week of bilateral meetings in Washington, rather than grand strategic debates, we seem to have in hand the following tempest-in-a-teapot:

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in an interview with the Atlantic Monthly about democracy in the Arab world, made brief and passing — and very critical — comments about the Chinese Communist Party.

These remarks have caused something of a kerfuffle in the Beijing media.

In response to Clinton, the Huanqiu Shibao editorial of May 15 2011 noted:

  美国国务卿希拉里用破坏外交礼仪的语言批评中国人权,称中国“做蠢事”(fool’s errand),西方与中国的人权之争呈现出更多的不规则性。西方对中国的态度像是外交、舆论战,以及它们国内政策工具的大杂烩。猜西方一个激烈指责“背后”的故事是很累的,简单说起来,西方在当下的人权之争中咄咄逼人,但这场冲突究竟谁是“胜利者”,却要历史说了算。

Which translates roughly as:

American Secretary of State Hillary [Clinton recently] critiqued China’s human rights by describing China’s ‘fool’s errand.’ By using this language, [Clinton] laid wreckage to diplomatic etiquette, and brings even more unpredictability to the Sino-Western debate on human rights. The Western attitude toward China appears to be one where human rights is used as an implement in the mish-mash of domestic politics, diplomacy, and the war for public opinion. Gathering that the story of fierce Western criticism behind [China's] back is tiresome, [we can] put it simply: Western criticism of China’s human rights has presently become totally overbearing [咄咄逼人]. However, on this field of struggle, only history will say who emerges ‘the victor’.  

Huanqiu Shibao’s editorial language is far more expressive that that of the paid-to-be-sternly-taciturn Jiang Yu, the Foreign Ministry spokesman whose remarks are reported on by China Digital Times [hat tip to CDT; an earlier version of this post can be found in the comments section on the linked piece over there].

The Global Times’ English version of the May 15 editorial in question is way, way toned-down and changed around, and includes the token reference to the now-useful-to-all-parties Ai Weiwei, who is so good at disappearing that he does not make the Chinese edition at all.

The strange thing in analyzing Clinton’s comments to the Atlantic is that they came in the midst of a much longer interview focused almost entirely on the Middle East. In fact, Clinton is in the middle of a comparison of China with — get this — Saudi Arabia when the conversation turns, and then she almost immediately swivels back to the prospects of regime change in Syria.

Is it possible that Clinton’s criticism of China is quite intentional, and intended to lay down some preemptive covering fire (in the form of “empty cannon shots,” as Mao famously said to Nixon about pro forma propaganda) for the Obama administration’s domestic opponents as the administration is engaging in multiple high-level meetings with China and signing a battery of bilateral agreements?

The anguish of the artistic community, and the Tibetans in exile, the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, and the Falun Gong notwithstanding (all of whose complaints are, like those of the American communist parties, very much separate and disconnected, united only by the object of mutual derision), is there nothing to celebrate about last week’s cooperative efforts in Washington, D.C.?

There is a ton of video footage available of Clinton’s various bilateral sessions with Chinese leaders last week, and in none that I’ve seen does Hillary Clinton appear to be lecturing Chinese leaders in tones reminiscent of the Atlantic Monthly interview as to how they need to change in order to avoid the historical dust heap.

(Stalin’s advice for avoiding said dust heap, by contrast, would have been an ice pick to the head of the regime’s opponents — effective and cheap, but in China there are not enough ice picks and too many heads for this strategy to work, and besides, this is the United States, where no problem, including the President’s national origin, can’t be solved without a little public bellyaching and a lot of transparency.  The relative clarity of ice, in other words, beats steel ice picks, and Jefferson trumps Lenin.)

At one point, Clinton happily looks on as her Chinese counterpart describes the good old days when [the Republic of] China and the U.S. got together to launch air raids on Japan.  When you’re remembering World War II and channeling Song Meiling, it’s best not to mention that China vaguely resembles Saudi Arabia, even if you think it does. (The video of this session was up on Friday on the State Dept. website and on YouTube, it now appears to have been taken down.)

The Huanqiu Shibao editorial therefore accurately notes the milieu in Washington last week.  The Secretary of State did indeed warmly greet her Chinese colleagues, the editorial states, concluding: “It makes one wonder if, when they talk about human rights to China, the leaders of some countries aren’t just going through the motions [走过场].”

Hey, if “going through the motions” gets us some real “Eco-Partnerships,” maybe it’s all in a day’s work.

Or maybe the State Department is banging on the table about the rights of American students — like the 25 I brought to Sichuan and Tibet last fall — to travel to China as part of the Hundred Thousand Initiative.

Or maybe they are busy talking about currency, trade, and our mutually dependent economies.

Fool’s errand, indeed, but then again, so was Henry Kissinger’s trip through Pakistan to Beijing in 1971, laden with briefing books by Chas Freeman and the hopes of a President burdened by a war (or two) and the hopes of a second term.  Who is writing Clinton’s briefing books and coordinating her strategy on China might even deserve a bit of begrudging support, as to both Sun Tzu and Chairman Mao (as well as their successors and their advisers in Zhongnanhai), “unpredictability” might be considered a word of praise for a premeditated but previously unseen Washington strategy.

via Le Monde