Henry Kissinger meets China’s defence minister in surprise visit to Beijing

The veteran US diplomat Henry Kissinger has met China’s defence minister in Beijing.

According to a readout on Tuesday from the Chinese defence ministry, Li Shangfu said “friendly communication” between China and the US had been “destroyed” because “some people in the United States did not meet China halfway”. Kissinger said he was a “friend of China”, according to the readout.

“Neither the United States nor China can afford to treat the other as an adversary. If the two countries go to war, it will not lead to any meaningful results for the two peoples,” the Chinese statement reported Kissinger as saying.

The surprise visit of the 100-year-old former US secretary of state comes as John Kerry, the US climate envoy, is in Beijing to meet Chinese officials to discuss how the two countries can cooperate on confronting the climate crisis. Kerry is the latest in a string of senior US officials who have travelled to China this summer, after the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, completed a long-awaited trip in June.

Relations between the two superpowers have been spiralling downwards for months, but there is cautious optimism on both sides that the restarting of official dialogues can build a foundation for improved ties.

Kissinger’s visit, which had not been publicised, is outside the official roster of meetings. It is almost exactly 52 years since his secret visit to Beijing in July 1971, which paved the way for Richard Nixon, the US president at the time, to normalise relations between the US and China. More than half a century on, Kissinger is still seen by many in Beijing as a “friend of China”. In May, state tabloid the Global Times praised Kissinger’s “razor-sharp” mind.

Kissinger has repeatedly warned of “catastrophic” consequences of a conflict between the US and China.

Li has been the subject of US sanctions since 2018, relating to the purchase of combat aircraft from Russia’s main arms exporter, which Beijing cites as a reason for refusing to reopen military-to-military dialogues with Washington. Last month, Li refused to meet his US counterpart, Lloyd Austin, at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.

China’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to request for comment.

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