(Ambassador Winston Lord, left, and Wenshan Jia, right)

By Wenshan Jia

I. Building Bridges Versus Building Walls: Winston Lord and Donald Trump visit Southern California

This week, American media focused on President Trump’s fundraising visit to California and especially on his visit to Otay Mesa celebrating the beginning of construction of Trump’s 2000-mile wall along the US-Mexico border. However, national and even local media ignored a book tour by leading American diplomacy scholar and former ambassador Winston Lord which took place at the same time. Ambassador Lord’s book tour in Orange County and Trump’s simultaneous visit to California reflect two competing forces- building bridges, as represented by Lord and his former boss, Orange County native Richard Nixon, against building walls, represented by Trump and his economic adviser Peter Navarro, a professor emeritus at UC-Irvine.

Ambassador Lord, a New Yorker by birth and one of the authors of a new book titled Kissinger on Kissinger: Reflections on Diplomacy, Grand Strategy, and Leadership, has obviously been a noted bridge builder, particularly with reference to US-China relations during the past 48 years. As “ Kissinger’s Kissinger”, to quote George Schultz’s description of Lord in his review of Lord’s book, Ambassador Lord has been not only one of the behind-the-scenes architects of US-China relations, but also one of the few observers who can speak to the totality of modern US-China relations. As a career diplomat, he has served under six US presidential administrations from Nixon to Clinton. Lord played a critical role in drafting the Shanghai Communique, was one of the few US officials who accompanied Henry Kissinger during Kissinger’s famed secret trip to China from Pakistan, and met Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, and Deng Xiaoping more times than any other US official.

(Ambassador Winston Lord’s new book, Kissinger on Kissinger: Reflections on Diplomacy, Grand Strategy, and Leadership)

II. A Defender of the Nixon-Kissinger-Lord Legacy
President Trump, also a New Yorker, is also here in California fundraising for his re-election, which Lord alluded to at his book talk sponsored by the Richard Nixon Foundation, the UCI School of Social Sciences, & the Long US-China Institute. Lord warned that if Trump wins reelection, it will be disastrous for the US and the world. Lord diagnosed Trump’s unpredictability as a sign of his incompetence rather than a mark of political artistry. Lord continued that Nixon had a China strategy, but Trump conducts diplomacy haphazardly.

At the talk which I personally attended, Lord blamed Trump for pulling the US out of the TPP, gutting the State Department, and starting the US-China trade war. He further argued that it is impossible to decouple the US and China economically due to the deep interdependence between the two countries. He concluded that China is a competitor to the US, as it has always been, not an enemy.

At the end of the lecture, I asked two questions: 1. There are unverified reports in both the US tabloid media and the Chinese tabloid media that Kissinger has advised President Trump to ally with Russia against China, the opposite of something Kissinger had advised Nixon to do with China and USSR in the 1970s. As a long-time assistant to Kissinger, could you verify if this is true? 2. A noted British historian, Niall Ferguson, wrote the first volume of Kissinger’s biography which paints Kissinger as an idealist, as a long-time assistant to Kissinger, do you think such a depiction is accurate? To my first question, he answered that although he was not present when President Trump consulted Kissinger, he knew firsthand that as a major architect of the US-China rapprochement Kissinger has always supported a peaceful and cooperative US-China relationship. To my second question, he replied that describing Kissinger as an idealist is a stretch. Kissinger is a geopolitical strategist who cares about values and ideals to the extent that they do not trump geopolitical considerations. He added that he himself had occasional tensions with Kissinger when Kissinger did not put values and ideals above geopolitical considerations.

III. Where to Go from Here
Ambassador Lord’s remarks suggest that under Trump, the artistic infrastructure and capacity of American diplomacy have descended into bullying and coercion, which is perhaps the true nature of Trump’s The Art of the Deal and by extension the true nature of his diplomacy. He laments that it will take significant time to restore the art of diplomacy embodied by the Nixon-Kissinger-Lord legacy. In my opinion, while Ambassador Lord has every reason to feel pessimistic about the future prospects of US diplomacy under Trump, more hope and optimism about a better US-China relationship in the future and about a better world could be ignited among the American public and the transnational public by educating them about the benefits the Nixon-Kissinger-Lord diplomatic legacy has brought about. Both President Carter, who has also been a major architect of US-China relations, and the Carter Center under his tutelage have been a shining example of such an effort for the public to emulate, for example. Perhaps more talks such as this one could be conducted, better announced, and better communicated to reach a larger audience who have been knowing and unknowing beneficiaries of this diplomatic architecture. Otherwise, this heroic saga of bridge building and peace building runs the risk of falling into silence and oblivion in the thunder of wall building and war-mongering.

Wenshan Jia, PhD, is a professor in Chapman University’s School of Communication and an adjunct professor at Shandong University. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Carter Center.