Former secretary of state Henry Kissinger met with Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Defense Minister Li Shangfu in Beijing last week amid heightened tensions between the United States and China.
The 100-year-old Kissinger is revered in China for having engineered the opening of relations between the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and Washington under former president Richard Nixon during the Cold War in the early 1970s.
Mr. Kissinger held a meeting with Mr. Xi at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse on July 20, but no official statement was released by the U.S. government as it was considered a private visit by a citizen.
The CCP leader expressed China’s appreciation to Mr. Kissinger, saying that the regime “will never forget our old friend and your historic contribution to promoting the development of Sino-U.S. relations.”
“This has not only benefited the two countries but also changed the world,” Mr. Xi said. “China and the United States are once again at the crossroads of where to go, and the two sides need to make another choice.”
Mr. Xi emphasized that Beijing is willing to discuss with Washington how they can “get along correctly” and promote the steady development of their relations, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
“Looking into the future, China and the United States can achieve joint success and prosperity. The key is to follow the three principles of mutual respect, peaceful coexistence, and win-win cooperation,” he remarked.
Mr. Kissinger also met with Mr. Li on July 18, a notable development given that the CCP had previously denied Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s request to meet with the Chinese defense chief at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.
During their meeting, Mr. Li said that “some people in the United States did not meet with China halfway, causing Sino-U.S. relations to hover at a low point,” according to the Chinese Defense Ministry.
Mr. Li, appointed in March, remains sanctioned by the United States over his role in a 2017 weapons purchase from Russia. Chinese officials have repeatedly said they want those sanctions dropped to facilitate discussions.
White House Disappointed With CCP’s Attention to Kissinger
Mr. Kissinger’s visit to Beijing came amid the Biden administration’s efforts to improve relations with the China. Three top U.S. diplomats—Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, and Climate Envoy John Kerry—had also visited Beijing for meetings with Chinese officials in pursuit of diplomatic engagement.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (4th left) attends a meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping (right) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, on June 19, 2023. (Leah Millis/AFP via Getty Images)
Ms. Yellen and Mr. Kerry did not meet with the CCP leader while in Beijing earlier this month. However, Mr. Blinken did have a 35-minute-long meeting with Mr. Xi during his visit to Beijing last month.
The White House has expressed regret over the fact that Mr. Kissinger received more access in Beijing compared to some sitting U.S. officials who had attempted to engage in communication with the CCP military.
“It’s unfortunate that a private citizen can meet with the defense minister and have a communication and the United States cannot,” White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters.
“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,” he added.
Mr. 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.”
Ret. Capt. James E. Fanell, former director of intelligence and information operations for the U.S. Pacific Fleet, said the CCP was hoping that the Biden administration would restore Mr. Kissinger’s longstanding strategic engagement policy.
“There’s no question in my mind that the Chinese Communist Party wanted candidate Joseph Biden to be president,” Mr. Fanell told NTD’s Focus Talk in December 2020.
According to him, the CCP “hasn’t been happy about having President Trump” as leader of the United States because his administration has ended and reversed the longstanding strategic engagement policy, which was established by Mr. Kissinger and adopted by successive U.S. administrations with the hope of encouraging economic and political reform in China.
“We just preach that if we just engage, things will get better. And for 40 years, we did that,” he said.
Mr. Fanell pointed to the fact that the CCP, taking advantage of the bilateral engagement, continued to build up its military and economic power to threaten the existence of Taiwan, push its territorial claims against Japan, provoke border conflict with India, and bully Southeast Asian nations in the South China Sea.
Bill Pan, the Associated Press, and Reuters contributed to this report.