Skip to main content

BOOK REVIEW: On China By Henry Kissinger

(No Chinese feathers were ruffled during the making of this book)

Published in Daily Times / Saturday, July 23, 2011
Published Under the Title: The new Peking order
Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

July 1971 is an eventful month for Nixon’s National Security Advisor (at the time referred to as a Secretary of State in everything but the title). He disappears from Pakistan, resurfacing in Peking and no one is the wiser. He manages to keep at least one of the two secret servicemen in the dark about the (earth-shattering) nature of his whirlwind trip. The secret mission to China, undertaken at Nixon’s behest, marks the beginning of a beautiful (!) “period of strategic cooperation” that has somehow passed numerous stress tests, withstood serious setbacks (Tiananmen Square) and seemingly insurmountable obstacles (Taiwan).

Archived issues of TIME magazine reveal that this former Secretary of State (1973-1977) was once hailed as “the American magician” by the Egyptians and labelled a “superstar” by Belgian and West German newspapers. Others simply dubbed him the “miracle worker of the Middle East”. Admittedly, some latter day historians have been more reserved in handing out accolades.

On the 40th anniversary of what was then seen as his greatest coup, Kissinger observes in Beijing that China — as the world’s largest creditor stands “on the cusp of the next world order” — a position once occupied by the US in 1947. His new book coolly assesses the four decade-old Sino-American relationship as “co-evolution” and not “partnership”, addressing the challenges posed by China’s growing stature amid proclamations of “peaceful development” (formerly ‘peaceful rise’) and the US’s need to retain both its “competitiveness and its world role.

But On China goes beyond the intricate foreign policy manoeuvres or ‘fancy footwork’ needed to keep that relationship afloat or why, for that matter, the US felt it needed to do so in the first place. It draws upon conversations with four generations of Chinese leaders to show how these warriors perform on an intellectual battlefield.

Here, readers not only get to hear the fascinating back-channel story of Kissinger’s hush-hush visit, they untangle four millennia of China’s history to appreciate “Chinese statecraft of accomplishing long-term goals from a position of relative weakness.” Kissinger has logged enough time fencing with Oriental minds to be able to break the Chinese Cipher without recoiling at its propensity for promoting domestic anarchy or clamouring for ways to rewrite their core philosophy. He recounts his more illuminating experiences of Chinese-style diplomacy. Who knew that “hospitality, ceremony and carefully cultivated personal relationships could be used as tools of statecraft”?

Between weathering many storms (some of its own creation), managing the barbarians (outsiders), recalibrating society on a whim and sending the Soviets into a paroxysm by exaggerating their ability to survive a nuclear strike — Red China has been slowly inching its way towards a new power bloc. The leaders responsible for overseeing an imperious China’s “century of humiliation”, managing its period of diplomatic isolation and putting it through the throes of the Cultural Revolution are meant to sway the audience with their exquisite diplomatic stagecraft and enigmatic prose. Deng is seen “conducting affairs with aplomb and self-assurance with which Chinese leaders seem naturally endowed.” Zhou has been described as a quintessential cold warrior who would have won the approval of American conservatives. Even when Kissinger admits the difficulty in summing up or comprehending “Mao’s elliptical and aphoristic comments”, he praises him for leaving behind a unified China, “clearing away the underbrush for reforms never intended by the Chairman, having taken a war-wracked country, manoeuvring it between competing domestic factions, hostile superpowers, an ambivalent Third World and suspicious neighbours.”

This China is not afraid of taking on a bigger adversary but has no hegemonic designs, is willing to wait for a lifetime for what it considers its rightful property and every once in a while does the phoenix routine. One marvels at the spectacle of invoking strategic principles from a millennium old event. Yet knowing that they can turn into aggressors just to prove a point (Indo-China half war) can be a tad disconcerting.

In Kissinger’s view, “The China of today — with the world’s second largest economy and largest volume of foreign exchange reserves is a testimonial to Deng’s vision, tenacity and common sense.” He goes on to add that this was “achieved at horrendous cost by relying on the tenacity and perseverance of the Chinese people, using their endurance and cohesion, which so often exasperated him (Deng), as the bedrock of his edifice.

He reminisces about the US’s initial contact where “neither side had an illusion of changing the others basic convictions” adding that “it was precisely the absence of any such illusion that facilitated our dialogue.” Sino-American rapprochement is shown as having started “as a tactical aspect of the Cold War,” eventually becoming “central to the evolution of the new global order”. Every so often Kissinger slips back into an advisory role, arguing that a reward for this rapprochement “would not be a state of perpetual friendship or a harmony of values but a rebalancing of global equilibrium that would require constant tending.” He also offers helpful insight into the potential direction of Chinese policy described as “a composite of ideology and national interest.

If China’s stealth rise threatens the established order, it makes sense that the White House roving emissary of yore would respond to these tectonic shifts preferably without disturbing the old order he helped craft. On China provides a comprehensive tour of the Chinese mainland marking the deep impression left by the Kissinger-era diplomacy and setting the tone for upcoming foreign policy matches.

The Penguin Press;

Pp 586; Rs 1,895

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

BOOK REVIEW: Pakistan: Beyond The ‘Crisis State’ / Author: Maleeha Lodhi

Thanks to Liberty Books for the review copy

Published in Daily Times / Saturday, June 18, 2011

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

Published under the title: 17 Reasons to Hope

“History will be what we make it. If we go on as we are, history will have its revenge and retribution”— from the movie, ‘Good Night, & Good Luck’

A region known for most “terrorist sightings”, a place feared for harbouring medieval mindsets next to progressive thinkers and a nation shunned for having an affinity for nuclear toys. By turns a cautionary tale, an indispensable ally and an international pariah, Pakistan does not fit into any mould — for long. But its name crops up whenever things go awry.

Pakistan: Beyond the ‘Crisis State’ is a compilation of articles put together by Maleeha Lodhi that countermands the grim prognosis. When Ms Lodhi, who has served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the US and UK, acknowledges that “resilience has been part of Pakistan’s story from its inception, obscured by the single issue lens…

BOOK REVIEW: Hira Mandi / Author: Claudine Le Tourneur Dlson

Published in Daily Times Saturday, February 11, 2012

Reproduced on Claudine Le Tourneur Dlson's Website

Translated from French by Priyanka Jhijaria

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

A programme about Hira Mandi did the internet rounds a couple of years ago. It claimed, among other things, that the sons of the ‘dancers’ reportedly end up as lawyers, doctors, artists — a few join politics and some even reach the military. These outrageous statistics may be one of the reasons the documentary was banned from the mainstream media. That and its primary premise — the plight of the fallen women — would prompt the conservatives to howl with dismay before scurrying off to bury any evidence in the backyard along with other bodies.


Claudine Le Tourneur d’Ison embeds such wrenching moments in a bold narrative where its doomed protagonist can hail the brave new world and its genteel patrons from an extraordinary vantage point. The expedition to the underworld with the unfortunate progeny and the hapless…

BOOK REVIEW: Quiet Diplomacy: Memoirs of an Ambassador of Pakistan / Author: Jamsheed Marker

PUBLISHED IN Daily Times /February 06, 2010

REVIEWED BY: Afrah Jamal

Jamsheed Marker belongs to an exceptional cadre of Foreign Service officers entrusted to keep things on an even keel on the diplomatic stage. Providence chose him to fill the void brought on by a sudden influx of newly independent nations and the subsequent need to expand diplomatic service during the 1960s. A stellar career in fostering global diplomacy as the longest serving ambassador has earned him a special place in history.

This veteran Pakistani diplomat has a striking resume. With ten posts and nine accreditations, his name appears in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the only person to have served as ambassador to more countries than anyone. He took his curtain call when Pakistan declared him Ambassador at Large in 2004, and has been on the faculty at Eckerd College, St Petersburg — Florida as Diplomat-in-Residence. He ended his tenure with a wry observation, ‘the batting card on the scorecard to M…

OPED: The Great Exodus

Published, Global Affairs Feb 2017

The MIG 21 parked in the Pakistan Air Force Museum Karachi is not exactly a war trophy – it belongs to an Afghan defector who flew by one day and landed at Peshawar air base sometime in 1989 / 1990. He was seeking refuge in Pakistan. There had been others before him. Three decades later, young Afghans are still seeking greener pastures – and making headlines because among them is a trailblazing female pilot who had made her nation proud but preferred to stay behind in the United States while on a training tour.

Pakistan has been doubling as Afghan nationals’ second home for over three and a half decades – hosting some 1.5 registered and 1 million unregistered. It ranks amongst the top three largest refugee communities in the world. The stream of defectors, asylum seekers, migrants and refugees kept flowing while the Reds retreated, Taliban invaded and all through the American occupation.

That surge has been unexpectedly quelled.

There’s a migr…

BOOK REVIEW: Outclass Teams: Secrets of Building High-Performance, Result-Oriented Teams / Author: Qaiser Abbas

Thanks to Possibilities Publications for the review copy

Published by Daily Times / Saturday, February 25, 2012

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

Runaway Teams beware. Qaiser Abbas is an organisational psychologist, author of books like the Tik Tok Dollar and the upcoming Leadership Insights — and one canny facilitator who introduced Pakistan to the concept of ‘Management by Adventure’, or as he likes to call it, MBA. His mission of rescuing wayward teams from doom makes him dash in and out of companies on a regular basis. Prompted by the success of such expeditions, he proceeds to refine these insights for a book on team-building and a lecture on group dynamics.

As someone who specialised in using experiential learning methodology in outdoor training, Abbas swears by well-structured one-day team-building programmes over time spent bonding over social activities. His recent book takes an in-depth look at this phenomenon to determine the value of team-building, show the expertise needed to ensure…

KARACHI DIARIES: MASTERCHEF Comes to Pakistan

Published in Economic Affairs / May 2014 P-20

Last year ‘MasterChef Australia’ S04 contestant came to town. Amina Elshafei, described as an ‘unassuming young lady from Sydney’, had been brought in by the Australian High Commissioner’s office and spread the joy of fusion cooking as part of her good-will mission. Around the same time unconfirmed rumors that MasterChef was headed to Pakistan were floating around. By April 2014, the rumors had officially been laid to rest.


‘MasterChef Pakistan’ is set to go on air by 3rd May 2014. The press conference in AVARI (Karachi) threw together an elegant presentation topped off by a divine hi-tea. The MasterChef franchise is already a household favorite, and makes everyone a judge of culinary prowess, and the lead authority on cuisine. Sidra Iqbal, the host for the evening, had also noted this amusing trend, listing Pakistani food as the ultimate source of drama.


His Excellency, the Australian High Commissioner to Pakistan, Peter Heyworth while …

BOOK REVIEW: Women and the Weight Loss Tamasha

Thanks to Liberty Books for the review copy

Published in Daily Times / Saturday, February 26, 2011
Under the Title: A Play-book for Losers
Reviewed By: Afrah Jamal
Author: Rujuta Diwekar

Master: “You are free to eat.”

Po: “Am I?”

Master: “Are you?” —
Dialogue from Kung Fu Panda (2008)

Po, the Kung Fu Panda, doubted his mentor/master much like readers will doubt a nutritionist guru when she hands over an exclusive pass to eat and, yet, maintain a strategic advantage in the fight against fat.

They need not.

A thriving industry feeds off of ignorance about weight-related issues. And when health and happiness become collateral damage in the mad dash for the finish line, it is time to alter the game plan.

‘Nutritionist to the stars’ Rujuta makes this lonely trek to the promised land a joyful experience where food is not the enemy, and learning the art of making better judgment calls is on the menu. Since she labels the struggle with weight loss a tamasha (spectacle) at the very outset, r…