Chinese leader Xi Jinping told former top U.S. diplomat Henry Kissinger on Thursday that relations between the two countries are at a crossroads and both sides need to "make new decisions" that could result in stable ties and "joint success and prosperity."
The 100-year-old Kissinger is revered in China for having engineered the opening of relations between the ruling Communist Party and Washington under former President Richard Nixon during the Cold War in the early 1970s.
Xi, who is head of state, party general secretary and commander of the world's largest standing military, met with Kissinger in the relatively informal setting of Beijing's park-like Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, with Chinese senior diplomat Wang Yi also in attendance.
"China and the United States are once again at the crossroads of where to go, and the two sides need to make new decisions," Xi said, according to a statement released by the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
"Looking into the future, China and the United States can achieve joint success and prosperity," Xi said.
Kissinger's visit coincided with one by Biden's top climate envoy, John Kerry, the third senior Biden administration official in recent weeks to travel to China for meetings following Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. The flurry of diplomacy aims to restore dialogue suspended by Beijing, mainly over U.S. support for the self-governing island democracy of Taiwan that China claims as its own territory.
Referring to Kissinger's role in initiating China-U.S. relations while serving as national security adviser during the Nixon administration, Wang said he had played an "irreplaceable role in enhancing mutual understanding between the two countries."
"The U.S. policy toward China requires the diplomatic wisdom like that of Kissinger and political courage like Nixon's," Wang said, according to the Foreign Ministry. Kissinger also served as secretary of state under Nixon.
The ministry said the two sides also discussed the war in Ukraine, in which China has largely sided with Moscow, as well as artificial intelligence and other economic issues. Wang told Kissinger that it was "impossible" to transform, encircle or contain China, which Chinese leaders say the U.S. is trying to do in disputes over trade, technology, Taiwan and China's human rights record.
On Tuesday, Kissinger held talks with Defense Minister Li Shangfu, who is barred from visiting the U.S. over arms sales he oversaw with Russia.
China's Defense Ministry quoted Li as praising the role Kissinger played in opening up China-U.S. 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."
U.S. leaders say they have no such intentions and only seek frank dialogue and fair competition.
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China broke off many contacts with the Biden 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 U.S. 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 U.S. Department of Defense. Even before Pelosi's visit, the U.S. says China declined or failed to respond to over a dozen requests from the Department of Defense for top-level dialogues since 2021.
The wave of U.S. diplomacy has yet to be reciprocated by China, which has its own list of concessions it wants from Washington. U.S. officials, including Kerry, have said they will not offer Beijing any such deals.
Kissinger did not meet with Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang, who has been out of public sight for more than three weeks. Despite speculation about political rivalries and personal scandals, the ministry has provided no information about his status in keeping with the party's standard approach to personnel matters in a highly opaque political system in which the media and free speech are severely restricted.