Kissinger, who served as secretary of state and national security adviser in the Nixon and Ford administrations, made his first trip to Beijing in 1971, laying the groundwork for President Richard M. Nixon’s historic trip the following year. He had since made 100 more visits, most recently in July, which Chinese media call a “double centenary” because of his age and trip tally.
“Today, this ‘old friend of the Chinese people,’ who had a sharp vision and a thorough understanding of world affairs, has completed his legendary life,” China News, a state media agency, said in an obituary published soon after the announcement that Kissinger had died at home in Connecticut on Wednesday night.
The news quickly became a trending topic on Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter, with the hashtag of “Kissinger just came to China this year” racking up 56 million views within an hour of the announcement.
Henry Kissinger, who shaped world affairs under two presidents, dies at 100
China Central Television, the state broadcaster, called Kissinger a “legendary diplomat” and a “living fossil” who had witnessed the development of China-U. S. relationship.
The Chinese ambassador to the United States, Xie Feng, wrote on X that Kissinger’s death was “a tremendous loss for both our countries and the world.” “The history will remember what the centenarian had contributed to China-U.S. relations, and he will always remain alive in the hearts of the Chinese people as a most valued old friend,” Xie wrote.
Deeply shocked and saddened to learn of Dr. Kissinger’s passing at 100. My deepest condolences go to Nancy and her family. It is a tremendous loss for both our countries and the world. The history will remember what the centenarian had contributed to China-U.S. relations, and he… pic.twitter.com/G0NwJU6EYI
— Xie Feng 谢锋 (@AmbXieFeng) November 30, 2023
But Niu Tanqin, a popular foreign affairs blog with ties to the state-run Xinhua News Agency, sounded a warning note. “In American politics today, many people are not listening to warnings from Kissinger, some politicians even go so far as to challenge China’s red lines,” the blog wrote. “There will be no more Kissinger after his passing. Of course, it seems that the United States no longer needs a Kissinger.”
Kissinger’s, most recent visit, in July, came as Beijing was seeking to reset relations with Washington — and when Communist Party leaders were reminiscing about the days when the elder statesman was at his most influential.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping — who declined to meet climate change envoy John F. Kerry, who was in Beijing at the same time — told Kissinger that “old friends” like him would never be forgotten.
“The Chinese people never forget their old friends, and Sino-U. S. relations will always be linked with the name of Henry Kissinger,” Xi told Kissinger, both sitting in easy armchairs at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse. Noting that Kissinger has just celebrated his 100th birthday and has visited China more than 100 times, Xi said the July visit was of “special significance,” state media reported at the time.
This came after Wang Yi, China’s top diplomat, harked back to the 1970s. “U.S. policy toward China requires the diplomatic wisdom of Kissinger and the political courage of Nixon,” Wang reportedly said.
Kissinger responded, according to Chinese media, that both the United States and China should eliminate misunderstandings. “History and practice have repeatedly proven that neither the U.S. nor China can afford the cost of treating each other as opponents,” Kissinger said, according to the Chinese account. “If the two countries go to war, it will not bring any meaningful results to the people of the two countries.”
Shen Dingli, a Shanghai-based international relations scholar, said Thursday that Kissinger was a master who carried out geostrategy on behalf of the United States. “There must be a guardrail between China and the United States, and Kissinger was the first person in the world to build this guardrail,” Shen said.
Kissinger’s work on relations with China began in 1971 when, on a trip to Pakistan, he pretended to be sick so he could shake off the press corps and secretly fly to Beijing, where he met with Premier Zhou Enlai.
The main issue — then and now — was the status of Taiwan, as the United States recognized the nationalist Kuomintang, which had fled to the island after losing the civil war to the Communist Party in 1949, as the sole government of China.
This trip, which Chinese still refer to as the “handshake across the Pacific,” laid the groundwork for Nixon’s trip the following year, the first time an American president had visited China since the establishment of the People’s Republic.
It resulted in the “Shanghai Communique,” in which both China and the United States agreed to work toward the full normalization of relations. The United States also acknowledged that “Taiwan is a part of China” and that once this principle was established, neither would do anything to change Taiwan’s quasi-independent status.
It took another seven years — and two more presidents — but the two countries officially recognized each other in 1979, when Jimmy Carter was president.
Former diplomat Lian Zhengbao, who served as director of archives at the Chinese foreign ministry, said it was Kissinger who finalized the phrasing about the statues of Taiwan in the 1979 agreement that normalized relations: “The Government of the United States of America acknowledges the Chinese position that there is but one China and Taiwan is part of China.”
Beijing wanted Taiwan to be called a province of China, Lian told the state-run China News Week, but Washington protested and changed “province” to “part.”
Kissinger also came up with the compromise phrase “Chinese position,” Lian said, citing Zhou, the former premier. “This line was contributed by Kissinger,” Lian recalled Zhou as saying. “We wracked our brains but couldn’t come up with anything right. It also shows what [Chinese] people think: after all, we don’t call Dr. Kissinger ‘Dr’ for nothing,” Lian said, quoting Zhou.
Since those early days, Kissinger met with five successive Chinese leaders: Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao and Xi, earning him the moniker “old friend of the Chinese people.”
In 2001, Kissinger published the book “On China,” in which he attempted to explain Chinese diplomacy to an American audience and to review the history of U.S.-China relations.
Chinese state news agency Xinhua last year said that Kissinger’s in-depth understanding of China had inspired many Chinese, and that “On China” was required reading for “almost all scholars and students of international relations in China.”
Lyric Li contributed reporting.
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