Kissinger’s death ends an era in US-China relations

State media hailed him as an “old friend of China.” On Chinese social media, people said his death marked the end of an era. They remembered his last visit to the country, in July, when he was 100 years old.

For many in China, Henry A. Kissinger represented a now-passed chapter in relations between China and the United States, when the two countries seemed to be moving inexorably closer.

Across China’s state media, remembrances of Mr. Kissinger highlighted his role in organizing President Nixon’s 1972 trip to China and his advocacy over the past half century for continued engagement and warmer ties between the two countries. The 1972 visit led to the establishment of diplomatic ties between Washington and Communist-ruled China in 1979; Beijing often points to those years as an example of a golden era in bilateral relations.

“The Chinese people will never forget his historic contribution to promoting China-US ties,” said the Global Times, a nationalist newspaper owned by the ruling Communist Party. post on X, formerly known as Twitter. Xie Feng, Chinese Ambassador to the United States, wrote on X: “He will always remain alive in the hearts of the Chinese people as a most cherished old friend.”

China sought to highlight the era of engagement that Mr. Kissinger presented as a counterpoint to what Beijing sees as the Biden administration’s efforts to compete with and contain China. China gave Mr Kissinger a red carpet reception in July, including an audience with Xi Jinping, the supreme leader.

“The relationship between China and the United States will forever be associated with the name ‘Kissinger,'” Mr. Xi told Mr. Kissinger as the two men sat side by side in cream-colored armchairs. “I express my deepest respect to you.”

China highlighted the historical significance of the Kissinger-Xi meeting in its choice of venue. It was the same building where Mr. Kissinger had met Zhou Enlai, then Prime Minister of China, half a century earlier: Villa no. 5 of Diaoyutai State Pension.

In July, Mr. Kissinger also met with then-Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu, who declined multiple requests for meetings with his American counterpart. (This prompted John F. Kirby, a spokesman for the US National Security Council, to express frustration that a private citizen has more access to China’s leadership than the government.)

Mr. Kissinger “was seen as a living legacy of the good old days,” said Wu Xinbo, dean of the Institute of International Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai.

When Mr Xi was in power in 2012, he met Mr Kissinger twice – once in Beijing and then in Washington. As a sign of the high regard in which he was held, Mr. Xi respectfully quoted the views of Mr. Kissinger in his speeches. in 2019 Mr. Xi said Mr. Kissinger that his “main contribution will remain written in the annals of history”.

Mr. Kissinger figures in Chinese textbooks as a key figure in relations between China and the United States, a leader who fathered a long period of increasingly close engagement between the two countries. But considering that President Trump and then President Biden shifted American policy from engagement to greater caution, said Mr. Wu, Mr. Kissinger’s influence was seen as waning.

President Trump has imposed sweeping tariffs on Chinese goods, greater controls on visa applications from China, tighter restrictions on high-tech exports to China, and tighter oversight of Chinese investment and intelligence-gathering activities in the United States. Mr. Biden maintained Trump’s tariffs and further tightened export controls. He also strengthened military agreements with the Philippines and Australia as a way to counter China.

On Chinese social media, Kissinger’s death dominated search topics. People shared comments on Weibo, a Twitter-like platform, mourning the death of Mr. Kissinger and on Tuesday of Charles T. Munger, a prominent American investor who was also well known in China.

Kissinger is much less remembered in Taiwan, the island democracy over which Beijing assumed sovereignty. There, he has long been blamed for his central role in shifting American diplomatic relations to Beijing from Taipei, and for failing to obtain a broad commitment from Beijing not to seize Taiwan. Mr. Kissinger has been a frequent visitor to Beijing over the past half century, but he has never been to Taiwan.

“Many people think that he was not a good friend of Taiwan, and I think there is some truth in that,” said Lu Yeh-chung, a professor in the Department of Diplomacy at National Chengchi University in Taipei.

“It is understandable that he cares about the interests of the United States,” Professor Lu said. “However, in this process, Taiwan felt that it was the party that was betrayed. Of course it was bad.”

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