Kissinger’s star was already shining brightly on the international political horizon when I was introduced to him at a banquet in New Delhi in the mid-1990s. In a brilliant speech, he encouraged India to abandon its isolationism and re-engage in world politics.
As he closed, he delved into conversation with the invited guests and demonstrated one of his outstanding qualities. Perhaps the greatest statesman since Metternich in the early 19th century and General Jan Smuts in the first half of the 20th century listened to his colleague matter-of-factly and with great curiosity.
I met Kissinger several times after that. My greatest impression was a lunch with him and Sir Evelyn de Rothschild in the late 1990s. While discussing Asia, Kissinger said he had heard that South Korea was likely to experience another collapse after the 1997 Asian financial crisis.
By now, I had made more than thirty business trips to Seoul and had lived in the city in 1983. I had worked on a consulting project for Samuel Montagu’s commercial bank to advise the South Korean government on restructuring its capital markets after the second oil crisis . I even visited Pyongyang, North Korea, in 1992 to give a talk on capitalism to a Politburo committee.
So I expressed my confidence before Kissinger that there would be no more financial crisis in South Korea. Kissinger listened and listened patiently to my words.
I made one condition: the global dot-com bubble would burst. “And will it explode?” Kissinger asked with forensic intensity in his irresistible, gravelly German accent. “Yes, I answered. It’s a question of when, not if.”
What impressed me most was that this renowned statesman, a man called upon to advise the world’s most important leaders, showed great willingness and interest to listen to a young upstart like me. This episode taught me that for a great diplomat, the ability to listen is as important as the ability to speak.
Francis Pike is a regular contributor to Weltwoche. Since the 1980s he established investment companies in Japan and throughout Asia, built an investment bank on the Indian subcontinent and ran a number of public companies in the UK. In various capacities, Pike has advised governments in the Americas, Asia and the Middle East.
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