Henry Kissinger was in Birmingham Tuesday. Sort of.
The former secretary of state and Nobel Peace Prize winner was part of a “China Town Hall” event broadcast to 81 locations throughout the U.S., including the Florentine building in downtown Birmingham.
Kissinger covered a variety of issues related to China and the U.S. – from economics and politics to culture and trade. Kissinger’s long history with China allowed him to provide context to the current state of the relationship between the two countries.
He said the U.S. needs to create “organic, nonmilitary” relationships with all of Asia, including China.
Kissinger said the next U.S. president should have someone on his or her staff with an intimate knowledge of China.
“Any thoughtful American president would have friendly relations with China and Russia as an objective,” Kissinger said.
Watch a replay of the “China Town Hall” here.
Stephen Orlins, president of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, moderated the talk, which took questions via social media from locations in the U.S. and China.
Orlins set the stage of the significance of China in the world and directly with the U.S., calling the U.S.-China relationship the most important bilateral tie in the world. The $600 billion in China-U.S. trade last year is just one of the economic measures of the relationship.
Despite the ties, there is friction between the capitalistic U.S. and the communist China.
One of the friction points is in the South China Sea, where the U.S. wants to keep shipping lanes operating undeterred but China’s definition of what constitutes international waters and its exclusive economic zone is at odds with the American government.
That issue and the advances being pursued by the Chinese military were the topics of the Birmingham meeting following Kissinger and the “China Town Hall.”
Retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Dennis Blasko served 23 years as an intelligence officer and foreign area officer specializing in China. The army attaché in Beijing from 1992 to 1995 and in Hong Kong from 1995 to 1996 is the author of “The Chinese Army Today.”
Blasko painted a picture of a Chinese military that is not yet ready to challenge the U.S. for dominance in the world but is pursuing a path that combines technology, equipment, leadership training and alignment that the Chinese government hopes will take it there within the next two decades.
That sort of insight is what the Birmingham Committee on Foreign Relations is seeking to bring to its members, according to Kali McNutt, chair of the organization.
“It’s important because we believe that all Americans should be engaged in what’s going on in the world,” McNutt said. “It’s more and more important in our globalized society.”
Founded in 1943, the Birmingham Committee is the leading foreign affairs study group in Alabama.
“We think it’s important to have a nonpartisan, nonprofit place where people can come together, discuss, ask questions, get educated and disagree sometimes about what the U.S. foreign policy is and what it should be,” McNutt said.
She said at a time when U.S. citizens have greater access than ever to the events going on in the world through technology, it’s important that they not isolate themselves using that same technology.
“We’re also very interested in making sure the young people in Birmingham and in our country are engaged in foreign affairs and understand what’s going on, why it’s important, so we work to foster that as well,” she said.