Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said that the US and China were in the foothills of a Cold War, and warned that the conflict could be worse than the First World War if left to run unconstrained.

“That makes it, in my view, especially important that a period of relative tension be followed by an explicit effort to understand what the political causes are and a commitment by both sides to try to overcome those,” Kissinger told a session of the New Economy Forum. “It is far from being too late for that, because we are still in the foothills of a cold war.”

Kissinger also said he hoped trade negotiations would provide an opening to political discussions between the two countries. “Everybody knows that trade negotiations, which I hope will succeed and whose success I support, can only be a small beginning to a political discussion that I hope will take place,” he said.

China and the United States are countries of a magnitude exceeding that of the Soviet Union and America, he added. “China is a major economic country and so are we, and so we are bound to step on each others toes all over the world.”

The New Economy Forum is being organised by Bloomberg Media Group, a division of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News .