Updated Jul 21, 2023, 12:55pm EDT
politicssecurityEast Asia

What Xi’s meeting with ‘old friend’ Kissinger says about US-China relations

China Daily via REUTERS

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Henry Kissinger, who played a key diplomatic role in normalizing ties between the U.S. and China in the 1970s, received a warm welcome in Beijing this week.

But his visit, which centered on a meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping Thursday who called him an “old friend,” comes at a time when the two global superpowers’ relationship is at an all-time low over disputes about trade, Taiwan, and the war in Ukraine.

We’ve curated insights and reporting to illuminate what the former U.S. Secretary of State’s trip in Beijing says about US-China ties.

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  • “The 100-year-old American statesman’s tour of China this week is saying a lot about the current state of U.S.-China relations and also how massively they’ve shifted from previous decades,” Semafor’s Jay Solomon writes in the Security newsletter. His visit prompted Chinese officials and state media to nostalgically recall Kissinger’s moves during the Nixon presidency to normalize relations with China and they called for the US to recapture his understanding of Chinese interests. Beijing’s top diplomat Wang Yi reportedly told him that U.S. policy towards China required “Kissinger-style diplomatic wisdom and Nixon-style political courage.” Notably, Xi has not met with John Kerry and Janet Yellen during their recent Beijing visits.
  • But Kissinger’s visit was only “nostalgia at best” and Beijing’s strategy of using “old friends” to divide and conquer might not pay off, said James Zimmerman, the former Chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in Beijing. The current policy on US-China relations has left Kissinger “way behind at the station.”
  • The warm welcome that Kissinger got in Beijing is the latest example of China’s efforts to go outside diplomatic channels to influence Washington. In recent months, business leaders like Bill Gates and Elon Musk have similarly been welcomed with open arms in Beijing, highlighting China’s longstanding economic ties with the U.S. and “the perils of untangling global supply chains.” The two countries have started re-engaging in trade issues but progress was hindered by a fresh set of restrictions on U.S. investments in Chinese tech companies. — The New York Times
  • The solution to easing relations? Listen to the younger generation of American scholars and experts on China, Chinese political analyst Zhou Zhixing wrote on WeChat. There is a generation of Americans who are more familiar with Sino-U.S. ties than their predecessors and are fluent in Chinese from their time studying and working in China, Zhou writes. This emerging group of young strategists in the U.S. should be engaging in high-level talks. The only problem, the analyst notes, is that China doesn’t have “such a corresponding group of young people.”
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During his meeting with Xi, Kissinger underscored the need to “appreciate the utmost importance China attaches to the one-China principle, and move the relationship in a positive direction.”

Kissinger also met with top Chinese diplomat Wang Yi as well as the China’s defense minister Li Shangfu, who was sanctioned by the U.S. in 2018 and has refused to engage in talks with his American counterpart, Lloyd Austin.