Chinese President Xi Jinping enthusiastically welcomed former US diplomat Henry Kissinger, who is celebrating his 100th birthday as the United States seeks to strengthen its ties with China.
Kissinger’s surprise visit to Beijing comes amid a series of high-level meetings between US officials and China. The former secretary of state played a crucial role in helping China break out of diplomatic isolation in the 1970s, but remains a controversial figure elsewhere in Asia due to his role in the Vietnam War.
The United States stressed that Kissinger is visiting China as an ordinary citizen. However, given his enormous influence in China, he could play a supporting role in negotiations between the US and China.
The meeting between Xi Jinping and Kissinger took place at the state-run Diaoyutai Guest House, a more intimate venue compared to the sprawling Great Hall of the People where official meetings with foreign diplomats normally take place. It was also the site where Kissinger met Chinese officials on a secret visit half a century ago that helped normalize US-China relations.
Xi expressed his affection as he told Kissinger that he was very happy to see him, and stressed that China will not forget his historic contributions to the development of relations between the two countries and the friendship between their peoples.
Kissinger’s meetings with diplomat Wang Yi and Defense Minister Li Shangfu emphasized the need for respect, cooperation and peaceful coexistence between the two superpowers. Kissinger was also quoted as saying that he is “a friend of China” and that both the United States and China cannot afford to treat each other as adversaries, as their relationship is crucial to world peace and society’s progress.
Kissinger’s visit to China was praised by Chinese state media, and many users on social media were impressed by the 100-year-old diplomat’s resilience. Some lamented, however, that the US was sending centenarians to promote ties.
As an ordinary citizen, Kissinger has more freedom to express his views during discussions with Xi and other Chinese officials, which could make it easier for him to present US concerns and demands. Also, his meeting with the defense minister, who is under US sanctions, may be less controversial.
While Kissinger is no stranger to China and has met Xi on previous occasions, his visit could represent a turning point in US-China relations, which have endured months of hostility.
While Beijing has signaled a desire for greater US involvement, experts point out that China will continue to prioritize its own national interests in bilateral relations. Kissinger is highly regarded in China for his role in helping the country re-enter the international stage, even if he is controversial in other parts of Asia due to the Vietnam War.
In short, Kissinger’s visit to China marks a significant moment in US-China negotiations, but is not expected to substantially alter the fundamentals that guide the relationship between the two nations.
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