The 97-year-old former US secretary of state, who as an advisor to president Richard Nixon crafted 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.
"For the first time in human history, humanity has the capacity to extinguish itself in a finite period of time," Kissinger told former Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., at the McCain Institute's 2021 Sedona Forum on Friday. "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.
"So in a military conflict between high-tech powers, it's of colossal significance."
After the Trump administration has denounced China on its human rights and trade violations, the Biden administration seeks to support its push for democracy with the peril of mounting tensions with China, which Kissinger views as "the biggest problem" for the U.S. and the word.
"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," Kissinger said.
The distinction between the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union pales in comparison to China because the latter holds economic power.
"The Soviet Union had no economic capacity," he said. "They had military technological capacity.
"[They] didn't have developmental technological capacity as China does. China is a huge economic power in addition to being a significant military power."
Kissinger said U.S. policy toward China must take a 2-pronged strategy: standing firm on US principles to require China's respect while keeping a continuous dialogue and finding fields of cooperation. "I'm not saying that diplomacy will always lead to beneficial results," he said.
"This is the complex task we have," he continued, admitting, "nobody has succeeded in doing it completely."
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.