Reporter Journal / Chen Weihua

Brzezinski: friend of China with great understanding of world

By Chen Weihua (China Daily USA) Updated: 2017-05-29 10:14

The passing of Zbigniew Brzezinski on Friday came as a shock because he was still making public appearances a few months ago, commenting on the Korean Peninsula situation.

In the past week, many of my Chinese journalist friends who had interviewed him or listened to his speeches recalled their fond memories of the great strategist on WeChat Moments.

To many of them, myself included, Brzezinski was a man of great wisdom and a man who had a great understanding of the world and China.

As then-US national security advisor to president Jimmy Carter, Brzezinski played a key role in the normalization of diplomatic relations between the United States and the People's Republic of China in 1979.

The close contact he had then with Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping helped build a deep friendship between the two men.

I had heard Brzezinski mention that friendship several times, including at a film showing last November at the Meridian International Center in Washington. The event featured the documentary Mr. Deng Goes to Washington, which chronicled Deng's visit to the US in January 1979.

While most people may clearly remember the image of Deng donning a 10-gallon cowboy hat at a rodeo show in Texas, Brzezinski had fond memories of Deng having dinner at his home, one prepared by his wife Emilie and waited on by his three children.

To my generation, Brzezinski was one of several smart American politicians known to Chinese.

I first saw Brzezinski in 2004 when he gave a speech at the Oksenberg conference room at Stanford University. After Brzezinski retired from the job of national security advisor in 1981, Deng told him that he was welcome to travel anywhere in China. Brzezinski expressed his desire to travel with his children along the Long March route of the Red Army in the 1930s. Deng agreed.

However, Chinese Foreign Ministry officials did some homework and found that it would be too difficult to make the trip, given that much of the Long March route was still not accessible then by vehicles.

When I posted this anecdote on my WeChat Moments on Saturday, friends praised Brzezinski for his charisma.

I had attended quite a few speeches by Brzezinski in the past four years in Washington. While I did not always agree with him, I always admired his wisdom and insight.

Brzezinski was not shy in criticizing people in his own Democratic Party. For example, he had blasted then-US ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice as lacking in diplomacy when she used words "disgusting and shameful" after China and Russia vetoed a UN Security Council resolution on Syria.

That, of course, came after the US and its NATO allies abused a UN Security Council resolution in 2011 to pursue regime change in Libya.

Brzezinski was also blunt about the US surveillance near China's coast.

"We do something to the Chinese every week that we wouldn't like them to do us," Brzezinski told a seminar in October 2015.

"Every week we fly air missions right on the edge of Chinese territory," he said. "Would we like it if the Chinese planes flew right next to San Francisco or Los Angeles? This is a serious problem," he said.

To this day, China has continued to protest the close-in surveillance by US planes and ships near China's coast.

While fully aware of the differences between China and the US, Brzezinski always believed it was essential for China and the US to cooperate on regional and global issues.

"My sense is that at least those who shape policies in both countries now realize there is a kind of de facto partnership between China and America and that it is in our mutual interest for the disagreement not to get out of hand," he said in 2015.

The brilliant strategist expressed his concern about a lack of understanding of world affairs by many Americans.

"The vast majority of Americans don't have a clue of what's happening in the world scene," he said.

I had tried to attend every speech by Brzezinski over the years. And it's hard to believe that when I return to Washington on June 1 after weeks of vacation, Brzezinski will no longer be there.

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