Former U.S. diplomat Henry Kissinger appears on a screen as he delivers a video address to the participants of the World Economic Forum (WEF) 2023, in the Alpine resort of Davos, Switzerland, January 17, 2023.
Arnd Wiegmann | Reuters
BEIJING — Henry Kissinger, a former U.S. secretary of State, met with China’s defense minister, Li Shangfu, in Beijing on Tuesday, the ministry said in a statement.
The U.S. Embassy in Beijing did not immediately respond to a CNBC request for comment.
During the surprise visit, Kissinger said he was a friend of China and encouraged both countries to cooperate more closely, according to the statement.
“”The United States and China should eliminate misunderstandings, coexist peacefully and avoid confrontation. History and practice have continually proved that neither the United States nor China can afford to treat the other as an adversary,” Kissinger said, according to a Reuters translation.
Without naming names, Li said that “some people in the U.S.” had previously failed to meet China halfway, causing Sino-U.S. relations to fall to their lowest point.
Kissinger’s meeting with Li comes as John Kerry, special presidential envoy for climate, is also in Beijing for climate talks.
Kerry’s trip to China follows those of U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in the last several weeks.
Blinken said he failed to restore military-to-military talks with China during his visit in June.
Diplomatic relations between the two global powers have grown increasingly fractured over recent months amid a string of tit-for-tat tech sector trade caps and increased tensions around the Taiwan Strait. Li and his U.S. defense counterpart have not spoken officially despite the security concerns.
Kissinger’s visit comes almost exactly 52 years after his secret visit to Beijing in July 1971 — a move which paved the way for then-U.S. President Richard Nixon to normalize relations between the U.S. and Mao Zedong’s China.
More than half a century on, the 100-year-old remains broadly revered in China. In a May article in China’s Global Times newspaper, Kissinger’s contributions to U.S.-China relations were cited as one of his “career highlights.”