Old Europe, Then and Now

A bit of weekend back-blogging: recently-released Nixon presidential papers reveal, among other things, interesting details from early Sino-US negotiations. An amusing conversation between Mao and Henry Kissinger has been making the rounds on the blogs, but the Telegraph‘s Richard Spencer turned to another aspect of the talks — mutual Euro-bashing:

… I came across this record of exchanges between Henry Kissinger and Chairman Mao yesterday, in which Kissinger’s contempt for old Europe shines through – remember his comment, when I want to speak to Europe, who do I call?

Here Kissinger decides Europe is pretty much irrelevant, and that the person he most liked dealing with was Mao, with whom he could be perfectly frank about his realpolitick. Ho-hum.


We won’t get into the whole Kissinger subject now, obviously. But can we just agree that if only there hadn’t been such contempt for Europe, we might now have Spanish and Italian cafes on every street corner, rather than Starbucks, and how much better modern China would be for it, at least in this one, small, trivial way?

Setting aside the non-sequitir that increased Sino-European political ties would’ve created commercial alternatives to Starbucks, there’s something very important missing from Spencer’s characterization of Kissinger’s (and, seemingly, Mao’s) attitude towards Europe: context. The primary rationale for détente wasn’t economic cooperation but mutual security. And in early 1970s, not only was the Soviet Union at perhaps the peak of its power, threatening both the US and China, but Europe was also in the beginnings of Eurosclerosis, politically splintered and threatened by radicalism (remember the Red Brigades?), and, save for Great Britain, militarily weak. Calling Europe irrelevant then would be harsh but close to the truth.

Regardless of whether Dr. Kissinger has made animus towards Europe a known part of his philosophy, reciting his biases isn’t enough to prove him wrong. In terms of international security, the Europe of the 1970s had little to offer the US and nothing to offer China, so there’s no wonder the Chinese chose to forge a bilateral relationship. Today, of course, China recognizes the power of the EU and will gladly play the Europeans and Americans off each other. This is the nature of a Chinese foreign policy that is ever-changing but always realpolitik.

Update:  The Time China Blog notes that the jokes between Mao and Kissinger are actually old news.