(CNN) — Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger met with US-sanctioned Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu in Beijing on Tuesday, according to the Chinese Defense Ministry.
Kissinger met Li as a private citizen, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said the same day.
The former US diplomat also met with Chinese foreign policy chief Wang Yi on Wednesday, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
Kissinger, who turns 100 this year, played a key role in bringing the United States closer to China while serving as national security adviser under President Richard Nixon (1969-1974).
His trip to the Chinese capital comes after a period of immense friction between the United States and China, and as the US government has undertaken efforts in recent months to stabilize relations between the world’s two largest economies. Several senior Biden administration officials have visited China over the past month.
The Chinese government has rejected US efforts to engage in high-level military communications. They rejected a meeting between Li and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin at the Shangri-La dialogue earlier this year, although the two officials spoke briefly at the Singapore summit.
According to a Chinese statement, Kissinger said he was in Beijing “as a friend of China” and that “the United States and China should eliminate misunderstandings, coexist peacefully and avoid confrontation.”
“History and practice have repeatedly shown that neither the United States nor China can afford to treat the other as an adversary,” Kissinger said, according to the Chinese reading.
Li dijo a Kissinger que “algunas personas en Estados Unidos no se han encontrado a mitad de camino con China, lo que ha provocado que las relations entre China y Estados Unidos se encuentren en el punto más bajo desde el establecimiento de relaciones diplomáticas”, según reading.
He urged the United States to exercise “good strategic judgment” and said he hoped Beijing and Washington could continue to work together to promote “healthy and stable development” of relations between the countries and their militaries.
During his meeting with Kissinger, Wang delivered a message reflecting Beijing’s concern over US policy toward him: “Trying to transform China is impossible, and blocking and containing China is even more impossible,” he said. she said, according to China’s reading.
The Chinese diplomat was also nostalgic for the tenor of past relations, telling his guest that “American policy in China requires Kissinger-style diplomatic wisdom and Nixon-style political courage.”
What does the United States say about Kissinger’s visit to China?
Miller, the State Department spokesman, said Secretary of State Antony Blinken learned of Kissinger’s travel plans during his own meetings with Chinese officials in Beijing last month.
“We knew Henry Kissinger was going to China,” Miller said during a State Department briefing. “It actually came up in meetings that Secretary Blinken had when we were in China.”
“Chinese officials have mentioned that he plans to come, as he has done many times over the years as a private citizen,” Miller described.
Miller said he was unaware of any planned talks with Kissinger, “but I wouldn’t be surprised if at some point he told officials here about his talks.”
“He’s done it many times over the decades,” he said.
Asked if it was problematic for Kissinger to meet with the defense minister, who is under US sanctions, Miller said: “We would object to anyone violating our sanctions, but I don’t understand a meeting in violation of these sanctions.”
“In fact, we said we thought our own defense secretary could meet with the sanctioned defense minister, and that would be appropriate,” he said.
Beijing cut off high-level military communications with the United States last August in retaliation for a visit by then US President Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan, the self-governing democracy that China’s ruling Communist Party claims but never checked.
Restoring that communication has been one of Washington’s main goals, including during Blinken’s recent visit to Beijing, during which the US diplomat was unable to secure China’s agreement to do so.
Beijing has singled out US “unilateral sanctions” as an “obstacle” that must be removed before such talks can resume.
Li has been under US sanction since 2018 for buying Russian weapons from China. He took over as defense minister earlier this year.
— CNN’s Beijing bureau and Simone McCarthy contributed reporting.