Xi Jinping Reconnects with Kissinger, Nostalgia for US-China Ties

In a recent meeting that evokes memories of a bygone era of closer US-China relations, Chinese leader Xi Jinping warmly greeted Henry Kissinger, the 100-year-old former US Secretary of State, as an “old friend.” Kissinger’s surprise visit to Beijing marks a significant event, considering his instrumental role in paving the way for the groundbreaking 1972 trip of then US President Richard Nixon to China. The encounter, held at the historic Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, holds symbolic significance, harkening back to Kissinger’s first visit to China in 1971.

A Remarkable Friendship with Xi Jinping

Having visited China over 100 times since 1971, Henry Kissinger’s presence during this meeting is a poignant reminder of the strong ties that once existed between the two nations. In the past, his clandestine discussions with Chinese leaders played a pivotal role in initiating the “ice-breaking” visit of President Nixon the following year, leading to the blossoming of US-China relations and their mutual economic interdependence.

Nostalgia Amidst Deteriorating Relations

While US-China relations enjoyed fruitful decades, the recent years have witnessed a notable deterioration in their ties. For Xi Jinping, meeting Kissinger holds sentimental value, serving as a reminder of the smoother times in the bilateral relationship. With both nations once again facing critical decisions about the future, Xi urged Kissinger and other like-minded Americans to play a constructive role in steering China-US relations back on the right track.

Mutual Acknowledgment and Commitment

In response, Henry Kissinger express his gratitude for the “great honor” of visiting China and appreciate the significance of being receive in the very building where he first met Chinese leaders. Recognizing the crucial importance of US-China relations for global peace and prosperity, he vowed to enhance mutual understanding between the two nations.

A Respected Guest in Beijing

Kissinger’s meeting with Xi Jinping comes after separate encounters with China’s top diplomat Wang Yi and Defense Minister Li Shangfu, despite the latter being under US sanction since 2018. The fact that Kissinger received an audience with Xi, while current US Secretary of State John Kerry did not, demonstrates the immense regard China’s leadership holds for him. Additionally, the visit coincided with Kerry’s high-profile visit to Beijing, where climate talks between the US and China resumed.

Informal Engagements Gain Importance

Xi Jinping’s meeting with Henry Kissinger reflects a growing trend in China’s interactions with the US, emphasizing the significance of unofficial people-to-people relations over formal diplomatic channels. Notably, last month, Xi’s meeting with American entrepreneur Bill Gates further underlines this strategy of fostering relationships with individuals who speak positively about China. These informal engagements are seen as a “divide-and-conquer strategy,” with Xi deliberately selecting meetings to send specific signals to the international community.

Shaping the Narrative and Optics

The setting of these meetings also holds meaning. During Kissinger’s encounter with Xi, the atmosphere was considerably more cordial than during Xi’s meeting with Blinken in June. The Chinese leadership is adept at shaping the narrative and optics to convey their intentions and messages effectively.


Henry Kissinger’s recent meeting with Xi Jinping in Beijing serves as a nostalgic reunion, reminiscent of an era when US-China relations were on a warmer trajectory. The meeting reinforces the importance of fostering personal connections and unofficial engagements to influence diplomatic relations positively. As the two nations stand at a crossroads once more, it remains to be seen how such engagements will shape the future trajectory of China-US relations.