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100-Year-Old Kissinger Meets Xi Jinping in Beijing

23.07.2023
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https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-66106076

Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger paid an unofficial visit to Beijing, where he was received by Chinese President Xi Jinping and Defense Minister Li Shangfu. The last meeting is interesting, because quite recently Li Shangfu did not meet with his official American counterpart, the head of the Pentagon, Lloyd Austin.

Whether Kissinger, who celebrated his 100th birthday in May, will be able to achieve any breakthrough in US-China relations is difficult to say, but Xi Jinping received him warmly: state television showed how the Chinese president smiled at a meeting with a former diplomat and said that he was very glad to see him. "We will never forget our old friends and we will never forget your historic contribution to the development of US-China relations and friendship between the two peoples," he added.

Not everyone in Southeast Asia treats Kissinger with the same warmth as the Chinese. This is mainly due to his role in the American Vietnam War. At first, he supported it, but then he began to believe that the United States should leave Vietnam as quickly as possible and with minimal losses. At the same time, he continued to insist on supporting South Vietnam until its fall in 1975, which did not add popularity to the former secretary of state in the eyes of the leaders of the communist North.

However, official China highly appreciates his merits, which helped Beijing restore relations with the outside world in general and with the United States in particular. It was thanks to his actions that China's foreign policy and its economy were reoriented towards the West. In 1971, when there were no official ties between the US and China, Kissinger traveled secretly to Beijing to prepare for the visit of US President Richard Nixon. It took place the following year, when the American president met with the country's top leaders, including the "great helmsman" Mao Zedong. This became possible after the efforts of Kissinger, the United States agreed to recognize Taiwan as part of the PRC and withdraw its troops from there.

This visit became a cornerstone, after which the normalization of US-China relations and the entry of the Chinese economy into the world market began. This diplomatic breakthrough, by the way, was extremely unfavorable for the then USSR, which was also not bad at all for American foreign policy.

The US State Department said it was aware of Kissinger's visit, but that he went to China "of his own free will and not on behalf of the United States government." However, in the course of unofficial visits, agreements can be reached and proposals put forward that can outline a way out of the impasse in which official diplomacy has entered. To date, relations between the US and China are far from trustworthy, especially after the balloon incident, which Beijing claims was meteorological observations and Washington claims was spying and intelligence gathering.

Henry Kissinger, being a private individual, is not bound by protocol and can speak frankly and without cuts, which, of course, gives more freedom of action, both to him and to his Chinese interlocutors. He can state exactly what Washington is concerned about and what they would like to get from China.

Similarly, the Chinese side was given the opportunity to speak directly.

An unofficial guest can meet with anyone without remorse and without subsequent diplomatic complications, such as Defense Minister Li Shangfu, who has been under US sanctions since 2018 for buying weapons in Russia. It is these sanctions that were the real reason, or pretext, why Beijing last month refused to agree on a meeting between Lee and his American counterpart Lloyd Austin at a forum in Singapore.

Last December, Henry Kissinger gave an interview in which he criticized both Joseph Biden and his predecessor Donald Trump for their policy towards China. He said that the current US authorities are trying to conduct a dialogue with Beijing, which always begins with accusing China of various lawlessness, so it is not surprising that relations between the two countries have reached an impasse.

Despite the fact that trade cooperation with the United States is certainly extremely important for China, it is not going to give up its political and territorial ambitions for the sake of it. This attitude was best expressed at a meeting with the same Kissinger, Wang Yi, head of the office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. This is not Foreign Minister Qin Gang, who, moreover, has disappeared from public life for several weeks now, but in fact his leader. Wang Yi said that it was impossible to even try to transform China, and even more impossible to encircle and contain China.

Considering that the US and China are the only superpowers on the planet, they will not compromise their principles and openly declared interests in their confrontation. Beijing has rejected a US request to restore contacts between the two countries' militaries, which Washington says are key to maintaining peace in the Indo-Pacific region. There is also a very real danger that some mistake on the part of the Chinese military, showing force in international waters and around Taiwan, could provoke an accidental, but potentially very dangerous armed conflict.

Although the State Department said that Kissinger flew to China without officially introducing anyone, his spokesman added that upon his return he could share his observations with them, and they would be ready to listen.

The retired diplomat's visit to Beijing coincided with a visit by US Climate Envoy John Kerry and came shortly after US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken visited Beijing.

At the very least, this suggests that both countries want some thaw in relations, although President Xi has not personally met with either Yellen or Kerry.

 

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