'Old friend': Henry Kissinger meets China's Xi Jinping in second surprise Beijing talks

Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger helped broker talks between then-U.S. President Richard Nixon and China’s Mao Zedong, paving the way for normalized relations.

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Veteran U.S. diplomat Henry Kissinger met with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday during a surprise visit to Beijing, according to state media.

The 100-year-old former U.S. secretary of State was hosted by the Chinese premier at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, CCTV said in an online post.

Details of the talks were not disclosed, though a statement praised Kissinger as a “legendary diplomat” in reference to his prior work in negotiating U.S. rapprochement with China, according to a Google translation of the report.

“Chinese people value friendship, and we will never forget our old friend and your historic contribution to promoting the development of Sino-US relations and enhancing the friendship between the Chinese and American peoples,” an additional report from official state news agency Xinhua quoted Xi as saying, according to Google translate.

The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment on the meeting. However, Reuters reported that the White House said Kissinger was not visiting China on behalf of the U.S. government.

Kissinger’s talks with Xi were his second unexpected meeting of the week, after the former diplomat spoke with China’s defense minister, Li Shangfu, on Tuesday.

A thawing of U.S.-Sino tensions

The talks come amid wider efforts to thaw diplomatic tensions between the two global powers. U.S.-Sino relations have grown increasingly fractured over recent months amid a string of tit-for-tat tech sector trade caps, increased tensions around the Taiwan Strait, and security concerns following U.S. interception of a suspected Chinese spy balloon.

Kissinger — who in 1971 initiated a normalization of U.S.-Sino relations, which later led to talks between then-U.S. President Richard Nixon and China’s Mao Zedong — is still held in high regard in China.

A video accompanying CCTV’s post shows footage of Kissinger sitting with Xi in one of the palatial rooms of the state guesthouse — a location considered more intimate than the Great Hall of the People, where official diplomatic meetings are typically held.

The video also features footage of the recent visits to China by U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. climate envoy John Kerry.

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Notably, Blinken was the only other U.S. official to secure face time with Xi over recent weeks, holding a last-minute meeting that was described as robust but conciliatory.

Kerry, in a four-day visit to Beijing which concluded Wednesday, signaled that a forthcoming meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Xi could be on the cards later this year.

Kerry was referring to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Leaders’ Summit, which the two leaders are set to attend in San Francisco in November. The last time the pair met was in November at the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia.

Correction: Kissinger in 1971 initiated a normalization of U.S.-Sino relations. An earlier version misstated the year.

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