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Testing sincerity: Henry Kissinger's February 1973 encounter with the Chinese leadership

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In strategic contexts actors may costlessly renege on verbal commitments. Many analysts consequently reject negotiation talk as an empirical basis for examining political interaction. They focus on deeds (e.g., missile deployments, troop movements, defense expenditures), which more likely than "cheap talk" signal sincere intent. Dialogical or pragmatic analysts, however, apply tools of linguistics and formal logic in systematic examinations of negotiation talk. They finesse the problem of insincerity by imposing upon themselves the burden of showing the consistency of actors' possibly insincere utterances with their interests and prior commitments. We present a dialogical analysis of the initial conversations between US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Chinese leaders in February of 1973. The Chinese leaders test Kissinger's sincerity by attempting to trap him in contradictions or drive him into implausible conversational commitments. This practice lends support to the heuristic proposed by dialogical/pragmatic analysts for finessing the problem of insincerity.
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Keywords: CHEAP TALK; HENRY KISSINGER; MAO ZEDONG; POLITICAL NEGOTIATION; PRAGMATIC ANALYSIS; PRAGMATICS; SINCERITY; SINO-AMERICAN RELATIONS; ZHOU EN-LAI

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: April 1, 2008

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