Kissinger in the New Era, who will it be?

The Chinese President has literally sent a message

The biggest Sino-U.S. news in Chinese media today is Chinese President Xi Jinping’s letter (ENG) to Starbucks’ chairman emeritus Howard Schultz, and the message it carried: promote China-U.S. economic and trade cooperation and bilateral ties.

In the letter, Xi wrote:

中国开启全面建设社会主义现代化国家新征程,将为包括星巴克等美国企业在内的世界各国企业在华发展提供更加广阔的空间。希望星巴克公司为推动中美经贸合作和两国关系发展作出积极努力。

China's embarking upon the new journey of fully building a modern socialist country will provide broader space for enterprises from across the world, including Starbucks and other American companies, to develop in China, (I) hope Starbucks will make active efforts to promote China-U.S. economic and trade cooperation as well as the two countries' relations.

The letter is among the latest and, in your host’s opinion, the most targeted public signaling of goodwill toward a U.S. businessman, a U.S. business, U.S. businesses, and the United States of America thus far.

In fact, the letter got publicized by Xinhua over a week after being sent on Jan. 6, for reasons unclear to your host.

Your host can't find a discernible pattern for such practice of publicizing replies to a personal letter from abroad; the best speculation is that the highlight of these replies is on a case by case basis, thus entailing a selective nature.

Put it in other words, it appears to send a message in literally sending a message.

Why Schultz?

Schultz has enjoyed a long-standing amicable relationship with top Chinese leaders. During a 2006 business dinner attended by Schultz, then Chinese President Hu Jintao quipped that he would like to visit a Starbucks had he not been in his office. In 2012, Schultz was photographed as meeting with Jiang Zemin.

Schultz is also a member of the business community in Washington state that as a group has attached great importance to fostering ties with Beijing. In 2015, Schultz joined top business leaders from the state, as well as the state’s all two U.S. Senators and 10 Members of Congress in a letter inviting Xi to visit the state.

Though the letter to Schultz is undoubtedly well thought out and intentionally directed, your host does not believe that Beijing is placing all its hope of mending ties with Washington on Schultz. In fact, the letter may have well been a subtle invitation for other business, political or academic leaders to seize the opportunity to “promote China-U.S. economic and trade cooperation as well as the two countries' relations”.

Recall earlier this month, when Tesla’s Elon Musk praised the Chinese government during an interview with Business Insider, Foreign Ministry’s Hua Chunying was quick to respond, calling Musk’s remarks as “objective” and said

Foreign friends free from bias and wishing to get an objective understanding of China will surely arrive at their own conclusion from the history of China's development in the past century and the changes taking place now. We welcome more foreign friends to come to China for tourism, study, work, sightseeing and visit so as to get a first-hand experience of the real China through their interactions with the Chinese people.

Or last month, when Xinhua released an unusual op-ed calling - twice - for a repetition of what Dr. Henry Kissinger did 50 years ago, visiting China and engaging in “deep conversation” with the Chinese leadership.

明年是基辛格博士秘密访华50周年。

The coming year marks the 50th anniversary of Dr. Henry Kissinger's secret trip to China.

当务之急是双方坐下来,进行全面、坦诚、深入的对话,把各自的战略意图说清楚,重建互信。近50年前基辛格博士访华时与中国领导人深谈,现在我们再次需要这样的精神和做法

近50年前基辛格博士访华时与中国领导人深谈,现在我们再次需要这样的精神和做法。

The op-ed, though ill-timed at just before Christmas, was covered in a Pekingnology newsletter by Zichen Wang.

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As the United States is reeling from unprecedented domestic upheaval, the message from Beijing can be easily overlooked. But for anyone out there who firmly believes, as your host does, that at least we should get the ball rolling in Sino-U.S. ties, now is the time to act.

Against unprecedented Sino-U.S. tensions in the late years of Donald Trump’s soon-finished presidency and a bipartisan “awakening” on China, who among the political, business, and academic heavyweights would like to try becoming the next Kissinger?

While the ideological split between China and the United States in the 21st century is far smaller than the one Kissinger had to overcome, the balance of power between the two countries has significantly changed, posing a different set of challenges to build consensus between the two capitals.

After all, what Beijing may feel is a main dish could turn out to be just an appetizer for Washington? But at least the two would have something to eat at the same table.

On a related note, Reuters on Jan. 14 quoted a U.S. Chamber of Commerce official as saying the chamber is expecting a high-level Chinese delegation “early in the administration of President-elect Joe Biden.”

This news letter is penned by Yang Liu, founder of Beijing Channel, with special thanks to Zichen Wang, who runs Pekingnology.