Fifty-two years after his historic journey in 1971, Henry Kissinger returns to China at the ripe old age of 100, completing the final extraordinary gesture of his long and fruitful life. President Xi Jinping (who was 18 in 1971) also receives the award, testifying to China’s strong ability to keep alive the sense of history, a specialty in which we Westerners can learn much from other civilizations. Kissinger returns to Beijing and reiterates the need for a strong US-China relationship, including as an essential element for peaceful balance in the world.
A few days later, Romano Prodi also intervened on important international issues, harshly reproaching a weak and divided Europe, which was essentially being pushed into a position of vassal to the American ally. There is no reason to waste too much time emphasizing again and again how respectfully the words of people with great international experience should be listened to, so Kissinger and Prodi are noble and important voices. However, one must also say with a certain frankness that they speak much more about the world they have known directly than about the current one, but are angry about powerful and brutal mutations that absolutely must be taken into account.
The China Kissinger visited in 1971 was a backward country plagued by enormous development problems and could not compare to the US in any other respect but the ping-pong table. The openness and dialogue then have therefore nothing to do with the current record, which says that the Beijing government already has the second largest military spending budget in the world and is now able to have a decisive presence on the five continents in all important matters, from financial activities to real estate, from mining to agricultural production, from intelligence services to cultural structures.
But even the Europe that Prodi speaks of and led has nothing to do with the current one. Twenty years ago it was entirely Franco-German on the People’s Socialist axis. Today, conservative parties dominate and the continental political scene is replete with political issues closely linked to the founding leaders. Therefore it makes little sense to criticize something that cannot exist. Rather, it would be better to admit that the budgetary austerity of the Brussels mandarins has already done enough harm, even causing Brexit, which remains a wound in European history for which EU power managers also bear responsibility in the first decade of the century. Today’s Europe, on the other hand, is doing what it can, and doing so with some dignity, as demonstrated by the way it has managed the pandemic and the great unity it has shown in supporting Ukraine. To prove this, just try to answer a simple question: Is there anyone among Macron, Scholz, Meloni, Morawiecki or Sunak who is willing to be represented by von der Leyen at international summits or in the White House? Since the answer is a thousand times no, we have to deal with the possible Europe, that is, the Europe in which the states exist and in fact have no intention of stepping aside, so much so that issues of national interest are on the agenda everywhere. Great realism is required when considering international relations.
The frenzy of globalization has presented us with a world of opportunity but also incapable of mitigating inequalities, a world that has severely impoverished Europe’s middle class in favor of Arab or Russian oil and gas oligarchs and cheap Chinese, Turkish or Indian producers. When Cristiano Ronaldo is set in Saudi Arabia and Iran and Turkey are the main producers of drones used in the war in Ukraine, it means the world around us has changed. Americans can no longer look at China with the attitude of Uncle Sam, which is immensely richer than it used to be, and Europeans must stop dreaming of a Europe of Ventotene, which is not in reality, even if it remains a high-profile, high-value prospect. Today’s world is dramatically embroiled in conflicts of all kinds, but that doesn’t mean it’s a world without prospects for growth or peace. But there’s no worse way to tackle this problem than using unusual categories. We live in the 21st century and there is nothing we can do about it.