Hong KongCNN — Chinese leader Xi Jinping hailed Henry Kissinger as an “old friend” during a meeting with the 100-year-old former US Secretary of State who is in Beijing this week for a surprise visit.
Xi met Kissinger at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, a diplomatic complex in western Beijing where Kissinger was received during his first visit to China in 1971, state broadcaster CCTV reported.
Since then, Kissinger has visited China more than 100 times, Xi noted in the meeting.
In July 1971, Kissinger became the first high-ranking US official to visit Communist China. His secret meetings with Chinese leaders paved the way for then US President Richard Nixon’s “ice-breaking” trip the following year.
In the decades that followed, US-China ties blossomed alongside their economic interdependence. But in more recent years the relationship between the world’s two largest economies has deteriorated markedly.
For Xi, Kissinger’s presence was a reminder of less rocky times.
“We never forget our old friends, and will never forget your historic contribution to the development of China-US relations and the enhancement of friendship between the two peoples,” Xi told Kissinger.
“China and the United States are once again at the crossroads of where to go, and the two sides need to make a choice again,” he said, urging Kissinger and like-minded Americans to “continue to play a constructive role in bringing China-US relations back to the right track.”
Kissinger replied that it is a “great honor” to visit China, and thanked Xi for choosing to meet him in the same building where he met Chinese leaders for the first time, according to CCTV.
“The US-China relationship is of vital importance to the peace and prosperity of both countries and the world,” Kissinger was quoted as saying, vowing to make efforts to enhance mutual understanding between the two sides.
China’s late paramound leader Deng Xiaoping met with former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in Beijing on November 11, 1985.Neal Ulevich/AP
The meeting comes after Kissinger met with China’s top diplomat Wang Yi and Defense Minister Li Shangfu, who has been under US sanction since 2018 over China’s purchase of Russian weapons.
The fact that Kissinger was granted an audience with Xi is indicative of how highly he is regarded by China’s leadership.
His previously unannounced trip overlapped with US climate envoy John Kerry’s high-profile visit to Beijing, which saw US and China resume climate talks that had been frozen for nearly a year.
Noticeably, Kerry, who is also a former US Secretary of State, was not granted a meeting with Xi, despite being a serving member of President Joe Biden’s current administration and anticipation by some observers beforehand that such a face to face could be on the cards.
The visit by Kissinger, who said he was in Beijing “as a friend of China,” followed a series of trips by US cabinet officials in recent weeks, including US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.
Blinken was the only US official who secured a meeting with Xi.
US officials have stressed that Kissinger is acting in his capacity as a private citizen and not as an messenger for the Biden administration.
Xi’s meeting with Kissinger is another sign that for China, unofficial people-to-people relations are becoming more important than official ones in its interactions with the US, said Suisheng Zhao, director of the Center for China-US Cooperation at the University of Denver.
Zhao described the trend as “a return to the pre-Nixon years,” before the two countries established diplomatic ties.
Last month, Xi met with American entrepreneur and philanthropist Bill Gates in his first known one-on-one meeting with a Western business figure in years.
Xi called Gates an “old friend” and stressed that he was “the first American friend I’ve seen this year.”
Alfred Wu, an associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, said Xi’s meetings are chosen purposefully to send a signal to the outside world.
“The message is very clear: Xi Jinping wants to meet with the pro-China people, who are willing to speak out for China,” he said. “It is a divide-and-conquer strategy.”
Wu noted that Xi also held a surprise meeting with former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in Beijing Monday, and praised Duterte for making a “strategic choice” to improve ties with Beijing when he was leader.
In addition to who Xi chooses to meet, the setting of the meetings is also a telling sign of the relationship, Wu added.
During his meeting with Blinken in June, Xi was positioned at the head of a table where the rest of the two delegations, including Blinken, sat facing each other on either side.
On Thursday, Xi and Kissinger were seated on the same level across a small tea table in a much more cordial setting.
“The two meetings are very different,” Wu said. “The Chinese are very skilled in shaping the narrative and optics.”
Source : CNN