1 of 3 | Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger made a surprised trip to China this week. File Photo Patrick D. McDermott/UPI | License Photo
July 19 (UPI) -- Henry Kissinger, a former U.S. secretary of state, made a surprise trip to China where he met with defense and foreign affairs officials.
Kissinger, who served as secretary of state and national security adviser during the administrations of Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, is credited with playing an important role in opening U.S.-China relations in the 1970s. His latest trip occurred at a low point in relations.
According to a readout from China's ministry of defense, Kissinger met Tuesday with Defense Minister Li Shangfu, who is sanctioned by the United States, and said he was visiting "as a friend of China."
"The United States and China should eliminate misunderstandings, coexist peacefully and avoid confrontation," Kissinger said during the meeting, according to the ministry.
"History and practice have constantly proved that neither side of the United States or China can afford to take the other party as an opponent. If there is a war between the two countries, it will not bring any meaningful results to the two peoples."
He apparently called for the two sides to "show wisdom, cooperation and common development" and for their militaries to strengthen communication, put forward efforts to develop bilateral relations and maintain peace and stability.
China state news agency Xinhua reported Wednesday that Kissinger met with Wang Yi, director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China Central Committee.
"China cherishes its friendship with old friends," Wang said, adding that relations with the United States are guided by mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and win-win cooperation.
"These three principles are fundamental and long-term, and are the way for China and the United States to get along correctly as two major countries."
The visit coincided with U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry's trip to China and follows a spate of high-ranking U.S. officials traveling to Beijing in an attempt to improve communication on topics of potential collaboration, such as the economy and the climate crisis, in an effort to mitigate effects of growing competition and military posturing between the two nations.
U.S. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters Tuesday during a press conference in Washington that officials have known about Kissinger's trip to Beijing since mid-June when Secretary of State Antony Blinken traveled to China.
Miller said Kissinger was visiting as a "private citizen."
"I will say he was there under his own volition, not acting on behalf of the United States," he said, adding that he is unaware of any meetings the 100-year-old former secretary of state may have. "But I wouldn't be surprised if at some point he briefs officials here on his conversations. He's done that a number of times, dating back decades."
Li was sanctioned by the United States in 2018 when he was director of China's Equipment Development Department over allegations of involvement in Beijing buying SU-35 fighter jets and S-400 surface-to-air missile system-related equipment from Russia.
In March, China appointed Li minister of defense, and the Biden administration has repeatedly stated it is not considering lifting the sanctions.
Asked if it's an issue that Kissinger, now a U.S. citizen, is meeting with a U.S.-sanctioned official, Miller said he doesn't think it will pose a problem.
"We would object to anyone violating our sanctions, but it is not my understanding that a meeting violates those sanctions," he said.
"In fact, we have said that we believe our own secretary of defense could meet with the sanctioned defense minister, and that would be appropriate."
Kissinger has made several trips to China over the decades since leaving office, including in December 2016, when he visited amid uncertainty in U.S.-China relations as then-President-elect Donald Trump was about to take office.
During his time in office, Kissinger helped negotiate the 1972 Shanghai Communiqué, which laid the foundation for the establishment of formal diplomatic relations between the United States and China in 1979.