enry Kissinger Hwas in Beijing just before president-elect Donald Trump decided to upend decades of diplomatic protocol and speak on the phone with the Taiwanese president. The details of Kissinger’s conversation with Chinese officials, including President Xi Jinping, were undisclosed, but clearly the aging statesman was trying to resurrect his role as a go-between between China and Washington. Perhaps he even conveyed to the Chinese sentiments similar to those he expressed to CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, essentially trying to present Trump as a statesman without “baggage,” beholden to no one.
Give Trump a chance, Kissinger said. Let’s not box him in. “We must give him time to develop his philosophy.” “We hope,” Kissinger told Xi in Beijing, “to see the China-U.S. relationship moving ahead in a sustained and stable manner.” Then Trump pulled the rug, raising doubts about Washington’s decades-long One China policy and confirming China’s worst fears. On Tuesday, Kissinger trekked to Trump Tower to huddle with the president-elect.
One of two things happened: Either Kissinger was sandbagged by Trump—after all, he’d spent weeks making the case that Trump might prove a stabilizing influence, capped by his Beijing conclave, only to be caught off guard by the paradigm-shattering call from the Taiwanese president. Or Kissinger was in on the stunt, playing the sober realist to Trump’s reckless adventurism, helping Trump to establish dominance, to lay down a strong opening bid for future negotiations.