Follow @southasiaanalys

South China Sea: Kissinger Offers Wrong Prognostication to China

Paper No. 5902                                  Dated 30-Mar-2015

By Dr Subhash Kapila

Kissinger’s prognostication to China to pend South China Sea dispute for future generations can best be termed as suggesting a face-saving exit from the international isolation on this issue arising from its conflict escalation record.

Speaking at Singapore on March 28. 2015, Henry Kissinger asserted in relation to China’s conflictual postures on the South China Sea, especially with Vietnam and the Philippines, that “ Deng Xiao Ping dealt with some of the problems by saying not every problem needs to be solved in the existing generation. Let’s perhaps wait for another generation, but let’s not make it worse.”

Harmless on the face of it, if taken by itself, but when read in conjunction with his further remarks that China and the United States should “remove the urgency of the debate”, there are more implicit strategic underpinnings.

The South China Sea disputes “urgency of debate” and international concern was brought about by China’s unprovoked conflict escalation and brinkmanship against Vietnam centred on complete domination of the South China Sea maritime expanse.

It was these Chinese destabilising moves in the strategically crucial South China Sea that prompted the United States Strategic Pivot to Asia Pacific.

Kissinger’s advocacy of China and the United States “defusing the debate” reflects alarm that his good friend China may be walking into a strategic minefield over the South China Sea dispute, as a tipping point may not be far off where United States may have to make a limited intervention against China’s unrestrained escalation of conflict.

Kissinger’s record of being a “China apologist” is well known and that background well reflects his concerns for China. Kissinger expectedly would be well aware that in case of even a limited intervention by the United States in the Western Pacific maritime expanses, China would not come off even second-best with its asymmetrical power equations with the United States.

There is another contradiction here that surfaces in Kissinger’s statements on the South China Sea when one reads the reviews of his latest book on ‘World Power’, Kissinger refers to the South China Sea disputes as “national rivalries”. Presumably, here too, Kissinger is implicitly suggesting that the United States should not get involved in any escalation of the South China Sea dispute and leave China to solve its “national rivalries” with its neighbours. In other words, let China prevail.

Kissinger has been a great practitioner of ‘balance of power’ realpolitik throughout his life. Does Kissinger not realise that what China is indulging in the South China Sea by its conflict escalation and ‘creation of artificial islands’ is aimed at nothing but as repeatedly asserted by me is ‘full-spectrum dominance’ of the South China Sea. Would that not be considered by Kissinger as China’s attempt to upset the ‘balance of power’ in the region and that too against the United States?

Further, when Kissinger suggests that China pend the South China Sea dispute for coming generations to solve, is it aimed at giving China strategic time to complete its complete mastery of the South China Sea maritime expanse?

Concluding, one would like to assert that China’s conflict-escalation and brinkmanship in the South China Sea needs to be checkmated internationally as “global balance of power”, security and stability is involved. It is “global rivalry” that is involved and not “national rivalries’ of Vietnam and Philippines with China-latter two, unequal to take on China in any rivalry.

(Dr Subhash Kapila is a graduate of the Royal British Army Staff College, Camberley and combines a rich experience of Indian Army, Cabinet Secretariat, and diplomatic assignments in Bhutan, Japan, South Korea and USA. Currently, Consultant International Relations & Strategic Affairs with South Asia Analysis Group. He can be reached at