|Helmut Schmidt, former chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, attends a dialog with Henry Kissinger, former U.S. secretary of state, during Europe's largest Sino-European business conference "Hamburg Summit: China Meets Europe" in Hamburg, Germany, on Nov. 29, 2012. (Xinhua/Ma Ning)
by Xinhua writer Guo Xinyu
HAMBURG, Germany, Nov. 30 (Xinhua) -- "Hamburg to me is of great emotional significance, because Helmut and I met here 55 years ago at an event when he was a promising young man," a beaming Henry Kissinger fondly recalls.
However, Helmut Schmidt may not agree with his old friend, because he has always claimed their first encounter, in 1957, was at a conference at Harvard University where they argued about nuclear strategy.
But the two highly respected statesmen came here Thursday not just to renew their time-honored friendship. They were drawn here by their common interest in China, which has played a big role in their political careers.
Kissinger, 89, was U.S. secretary of state, while 93-year-old Schmidt was chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany.
The two retired politicians are still wielding great influence as writers in their respective countries, as well as in world politics, with both having published books on China in recent years.
So it is only natural a dialogue between the two heavyweight China experts became the highlight of Europe's largest Sino-European business conference, "Hamburg Summit: China meets Europe," a two-day event on Thursday and Friday.
On the hot topic of China's development under its new leadership, both Kissinger and Schmidt expect continuity in China's domestic and foreign policies, with Kissinger saying the new leadership faces a new set of circumstances in Chinese society, including the contrast between well-off coastal regions and largely underdeveloped rural regions.
"The period under China's new leadership will become a historic period because the new conditions require significant adaptation," Kissinger said.
As the first Western statesmen to have opened the diplomatic door to the People's Republic of China, both men expressed admiration for China's rapid development.
Kissinger flew to Beijing in 1971 to blaze the trail for the establishment of diplomatic ties between the United States and China. In the same year, Schmidt, as Germany's defense minister, urged then Chancellor Willy Brandt to forge formal relations with China. As chancellor, Schmidt paid his first visit to Beijing in 1975.
In front of a large audience, Schmidt underlined the pacifistic nature of China, as evidenced throughout its long history and by its actions in recent decades.
"If you look at Chinese history, it has never colonized other countries, and there is no tradition in China's foreign policy of taking other people's territory, and I do not believe they will go away from that tradition," the former German chancellor said.
He noted the surge of vitality in China since 1978, after the Chinese civilization had gone through three or more centuries of decay, as did other fading ancient civilizations.
Schmidt also expressed optimism for China's development and innovation.
"Convinced of the enormous efforts by China in high education and research over the last 30 years, I will not exclude that, as much as they put a man into the space, they may also be able to create a medicine to cure Parkinson's disease," he said half-jokingly.
Like Schmidt, Kissinger also rejected the idea the rise of China might lead to confrontation with the West, especially with the United States.
"We know what the consequences of conflicts between major powers are today, and so the idea that we may head towards military conflict is one that I generally reject," he said.
However, he said it was an enormous challenge for both Washington and Beijing to find a pattern of cooperation to solve problems, and to bury the idea of military rivalry between the two.
"I believe leaders in both countries have an obligation to educate the people into a cooperative pattern, because I do not see benefits to the countries or to the world from a confrontation," Kissinger said.
RESPECT AND COOPERATION
On China's chosen path of development, both experts said states should show respect for and refrain from interfering with other countries' domestic affairs.
"I am old-fashioned. I believe in the international laws set in the Peace of Westphalia about 400 years ago," Schmidt said.
Kissinger further explained that the principle of non-interference was developed as the Peace of Westphalia brought to an end the Thirty Years War, which had caused great human losses in Europe.
"The principle was established to prevent a catastrophe from happening again," he said. "It was based on experience of what could happen when states attempt to change the domestic structure of other countries."
Schmidt said everyone had to learn to show respect for the different paths chosen by others. "Respect and cooperation, these are the two keywords the world should learn as soon as possible," the former German chancellor concluded.