UNH political science professor Lawrence Reardon held a China Town Hall Meeting on the Tuesday, Oct. 18 at 7 p.m. in Murkland Hall, where a live webcast of an interview with former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was streamed to a room full of students, academics and visitors from nations around the world including China, Taiwan and Malaysia.
After the webcast ended, former U.S. Consul General to Shanghai Doug Spelman expressed his thoughts on the interview and answered crowd questions. The UNH campus was the state’s host site for this 10th annual China Town Hall event.
The first hour featured Kissinger’s talk during which he spoke about his famous trip to China in 1972, which many see as the turning point in the relationship between communist China and the United States. After decades of contentious, and at times violent interactions, the leaders from the two powerful countries met, and both have continued to be two of the most powerful countries in the world.
Kissinger is widely considered to be one of the United States’ most influential foreign policy thinkers and officials. In the beginning of the event, Reardon said that hosting a webcast with Kissinger was controversial among faculty. Many human rights organizations, lawyers, journalists and others have denounced Kissinger as being a war criminal. In a piece published by The Nation Magazine on Aug. 9, 2016, writer Greg Grandin compiled a collection of all of the charges against Kissinger. The charges ranged from prolonging the Vietnam War to supporting death squads in Latin America. Reardon and Spelman challenged this by saying the event focused on China.
With China as a growing power, members of the university, Reardon included, have started an Asian Studies program that aims to further develop students’ understanding of cultural, historical and other areas in relation to China and the rest of Asia.
One audience member at Tuesday’s event was Sheila Sri Priya, who was visiting from Hooksett where she is living as part of a foreign exchange program. Priya is a community journalist originally from Malaysia.
“[Kissinger] did mention that the Chinese have a different history and culture from the U.S. and that it was important to understand each other well. I think this goes the same to other parts of the world. When we can have good understanding and respect for one another, we can build great partnership,” Priya said. “I feel the key is to make sure we are all interested to learn about one another and look at our similarities. When we build a common interest we could achieve greatness.”
In the dialogue after the interview, Spelman specifically mentioned his weariness toward political officials who don’t understand China well enough. Mentioning Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s position on nuclear weapons in the region, he said, “[Trump] doesn’t have the experience, nor I think the temperament to deal with these problems successfully.”
“But I think Hillary Clinton is quite capable and experienced. She has made mistakes and so forth, but I don’t think they’re disqualifying. I would have confidence in her dealing with these issues. She has dealt with these issues,” Spelman said.
“I think it was a fine event,” Reardon said in retrospect on Wednesday, Oct. 19. “All in all, I think trying to promote understanding about China is something that [is important to] different countries all around the world, especially non-European countries. I think it’s very important for UNH students to spark their interest.”