Henry Kissinger, the former secretary of state and chief architect of the US-China rapprochement, was given a wide audience as compared to incumbent US officials that recently visited the Asian giant.
The top Chinese diplomat and President Xi Jinping held talks with him at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing.
Kissinger — a person who initiated normalisation between Washington and Beijing in the 1970s as secretary of state and national security advisor under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford — was given a warm welcome as an “old friend” by Chinese President Xi Jinping Thursday amid efforts by Beijing and Washington to diffuse tensions.
While expressing regret, White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said: “It’s unfortunate that a private citizen can meet with the defence minister and have a communication and the United States can’t,” adding that it was a “private visit by a citizen”.
As part of those meetings, the 100-year-old historian also met with China’s top diplomat Wang Yi and with defence minister Li Shangfu, who declined talks with US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin.
General Li, appointed in March, remains sanctioned by the US over his role in a 2017 weapons purchase from Russia’s largest arms exporter, Rosoboronexport.
Chinese officials have repeatedly said they want those sanctions, imposed in 2018, dropped to facilitate discussions.
“That is something that we want to solve. This is why we continue to try to get the military lines of communication back open because when they’re not open and you have a time like this when tensions are high, miscalculations also, then the risk goes high,” Kirby said.
Kirby said that administration officials “look forward to hearing from Secretary Kissinger when he returns, to hear what he heard, what he learned, what he saw.”
Tensions between the world’s two largest economies have heightened over a range of issues, including Ukraine, Taiwan, and trade.
U.S. presidential envoy John Kerry concluded lengthy talks with Beijing on fighting climate change Wednesday and current Secretary of State Antony Blinken went to Beijing last month before Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen arrived in the Chinese capital.
Dr Kissinger’s visit to China comes at a time when the two superpowers are embarking on a course to stop their relations, already at historic lows, from sinking further.
“China is willing to discuss with the US side the right way for the two countries to get along and promote the steady progress of China-U.S. relations,” Xi said.
China and the US can achieve mutual success and prosper together, he added, stressing the key is to follow the principles of “mutual respect, peaceful coexistence, and win-win cooperation.”