WASHINGTON (AFP) - Acclaimed diplomat Henry Kissinger said on Friday (April 30) that United States-China tensions threaten to engulf the entire world and could lead to an Armageddon-like clash between the two military and technology giants.
The 97-year-old former US Secretary of State, who as an adviser to president Richard Nixon crafted the 1971 unfreezing of relations between Washington and Beijing, said the mix of economic, military and technological strengths of the two superpowers carried more risks than the Cold War with the Soviet Union.
Strains with China are "the biggest problem for America, the biggest problem for the world," Mr Kissinger told the McCain Institute's Sedona Forum on global issues.
"Because if we can't solve that, then the risk is that all over the world a kind of cold war will develop between China and the United States."
While nuclear weapons were already large enough to damage the entire globe during the Cold War, he said advances in nuclear technology and artificial intelligence - where China and the United States are both leaders - have multiplied the doomsday threat.
"For the first time in human history, humanity has the capacity to extinguish itself in a finite period of time," Mr Kissinger said.
"We have developed the technology of a power that is beyond what anybody imagined even 70 years ago.
"And now, to the nuclear issue is added the high-tech issue, which in the field of artificial intelligence, in its essence is based on the fact that man becomes a partner of machines and that machines can develop their own judgment," he said.
"So in a military conflict between high-tech powers, it's of colossal significance."
The Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union during the decades after World War II was more one-dimensional, focused on nuclear weapons competition, said Mr Kissinger, one of the leading strategic thinkers of the past six decades.
"The Soviet Union had no economic capacity. They had military technological capacity," he said.
"(They) didn't have developmental technological capacity as China does. China is a huge economic power in addition to being a significant military power."
Mr Kissinger said US policy toward China must take a two-pronged approach: standing firm on US principles to demand China's respect, while maintaining a constant dialogue and finding areas of cooperation.
"I'm not saying that diplomacy will always lead to beneficial results," he said.
"This is the complex task we have... Nobody has succeeded in doing it completely," he said.