China looks to Henry Kissinger meeting to improve strained relations with US

Former secretary of state meets Chinese diplomat and defence minister in Beijing

Former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China. Reuters
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Amid a steep downturn in relations with the US, China has looked to a meeting with former US national security adviser and secretary of state Henry Kissinger to revive positive momentum.

The 100-year-old Mr Kissinger on Wednesday met the ruling Communist Party’s diplomat Wang Yi, who said it was “impossible” to transform, encircle or contain China, reiterating top Chinese leaders’ statements on what they say the US is trying to do based on differences over trade, technology, Taiwan and China’s human rights record.

On Tuesday, Mr Kissinger held talks with Defence Minister Li Shangfu, who is barred from visiting the US over arms sales he oversaw with Russia.

China’s Defence Ministry quoted Mr Li as praising the role Mr Kissinger played in opening up China-US relations in the early 1970s, but said bilateral ties had hit a low point because of “some people on the American side who are not willing to meet China halfway”.

US leaders say they seek only frank dialogue and fair competition in the economic sector.

Beijing broke off some mid- and high-level contacts with President Joe Biden's administration last August, including over climate issues, to show its anger with then-House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan. China claims the island as its own territory to be brought under its control by force if necessary, threatening to draw the US into a major conflict in a region crucial to the global economy.

Contacts have only slowly been restored and China continues to refuse to restart dialogue between the People’s Liberation Army, the party’s military branch, and the US Department of Defence.

Mr Kissinger's visit coincides with that of Mr Biden's top climate envoy John Kerry, the third senior Biden administration official in recent weeks to travel to China for meetings with their counterparts, following Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.

The wave of US diplomacy has yet to be reciprocated by China, which has its own list of concessions it wants from Washington. Serving US officials, including Mr Kerry, say they will not be offering any such deals to Beijing.

Updated: July 19, 2023, 8:27 PM