China pays tribute to Henry Kissinger: ‘The old friend of the Chinese people’

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China is mourning the death of Henry Kissinger, the 100-year-old US diplomat who played a critical role in America’s historic rapprochement with China in the 1970s.

The former diplomat, who had unprecedented high-profile access to senior government officials throughout his lifetime, died on Wednesday and leaves a polarising legacy, as he was remembered in the American media for his huge influence on foreign policy while simulatneously being branded a “war criminal” by some.

But Kissinger, who visited China more than 100 times throughout his life, is among the few American officials viewed favourably by Beijing and was being fondly remembered in the Asian country on Thursday.

“It is a tremendous loss for both our countries and the world,” Xie Feng, the Chinese ambassador to the US, said in a post on X/Twitter.

“History will remember what the centenarian had contributed to China-US relations, and he will always remain alive in the hearts of the Chinese people as a most valued old friend,” he said.

Kissinger made history as the only American to have engaged directly with every successive Chinese leader, starting with Mao Zedong.

In July, Kissinger was warmly greeted by Chinese president Xi Jinping when tensions were at a peak between Beijing and Washington.

When the ex-diplomat served under Richard Nixon in the 1970s, he had played an important role in normalising relations between his country and China.

This included the formulation of the “Shanghai Communique” in 1972, which marked the US’s first diplomatic communications with the People’s Republic of China, that was formed in 1949.

After news of Kissinger’s death broke, Chinese state media, in sharp contrast to some of their American counterparts, paid glowing tribute to the controversial diplomat.

State-owned China News, in an obituary for Kissinger, called him an “old friend of the Chinese people, who had a sharp vision and a thorough understanding of world affairs”.

Kissinger was emblematic of a friendlier time between China and the US, compared to recent years when both countries have been at loggerheads with each other over their worldviews, and perceive each other’s officials with apathy and suspicion.

In July, when Kissinger met Mr Xi, he was told that “old friends” like him would never be forgotten.

“The Chinese people never forget their old friends, and Sino-US relations will always be linked with the name of Henry Kissinger,” Mr Xi told the former diplomat.

The Chinese president had refused to meet American climate change envoy John F Kerry, who was also in Beijing at the same time as Kissinger.

Wang Yi, the Chinese foreign affairs chief, said at the time that the US policy toward China required the “diplomatic wisdom” of Kissinger.

“It is impossible to try to transform China, and it is even more impossible to contain China,” Mr Wang had said in a statement.

“The US policy toward China requires the diplomatic wisdom of Kissinger and the political courage of (former US president Richard) Nixon.”

On Chinese social media site Weibo, Kissinger was feted and received tributes from many users after his death.

The hashtag “Kissinger just came to China this year” went viral soon after the death of the former diplomat was announced.

Users on Chinese platforms praised Kissinger and said he was “still doing his best for difficult US-China relations” in the years leading up to his death.

“He was a very good rival and partner. His passing is an incalculable loss to both China and the United States,” wrote one user.

State-run China Central Television (CCTV) called him “a legendary diplomat” and a “living fossil”.

It said he was “an important witness who experienced the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the United States and the development of the relationship between the two countries”.