Veteran U.S. diplomat Henry Kissinger on Monday said that Washington and Beijing must seek to avoid putting Taiwan at the center of their tense diplomatic relationship, adding that the need for the world’s two largest economies to avoid direct confrontation is in the interest of global peace.
His comments come shortly after President Joe Biden said the U.S. would be prepared to intervene militarily if China invaded the democratic, self-governed island.
Biden’s remarks appeared to mark a break in Washington’s deliberate and long-held tradition of “strategic ambiguity” over Taiwan. The White House quickly sought to downplay the comments, saying they do not reflect a change in policy.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum in a rare springtime version of Davos, Kissinger said: “The United States should not by subterfuge or by a gradual process develop something of a ‘two-China’ solution, but that China will continue to exercise the patience that has been exercised up until now.”
“A direct confrontation should be avoided and Taiwan cannot be the core of the negotiations because it is between China and the United States.”
Earlier on Monday, Biden told reporters at a joint news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida that the U.S. would be prepared to defend Taiwan if Beijing invaded.
The comments prompted a backlash from China’s Foreign Ministry, which expressed “strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition” to the remarks.
Under the “one China” policy, a cornerstone of diplomatic relations between Washington and Beijing, the U.S. diplomatically acknowledges China’s position that there is only one Chinese government.
However, the U.S. also maintains a “robust unofficial” relationship with Taiwan, and Washington supplies military equipment to the island in accordance with the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act. This act does not require the U.S. to intervene militarily to defend Taiwan if China invades, but makes it a policy to ensure the island has the resources to defend itself and to deter Beijing from unilaterally unifying the island.
China claims Taiwan is part of its own territory and has been putting pressure on the democratic island to accept its rule.
‘Important for overall peace’
“For the core of the negotiations, it is important that the United States and China discuss principles that affect the adversarial relationship that permits at least some scope for cooperative efforts,” Kissinger said.
“It is important for the overall peace of the world for the United States and China to mitigate their adversarial relationship,” he added.
Kissinger, who turns 99 on Friday, served as secretary of state and national security advisor under Republican Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford in the 1970s.
A controversial and polarizing political figure, Kissinger influenced some of the most important turns in U.S. foreign policy during his time in office. This included orchestrating U.S. relations with China.