Henry Kissinger was so well-loved in China that Xi Jinping called him an "old friend" in July.
Kissinger's contributions to US-China relations would never be forgotten, an unusually warm Xi said.
China re-affirmed Xi's exact words in response to Kissinger's death on Wednesday.
When the 100-year-old Henry Kissinger arrived in Beijing in July, it was at the tail-end of an intense, three-month diplomatic drive by the Biden administration to smoothen relations with China.
Kissinger, who died on Wednesday, was not one of the officials sent by Washington that summer and instead showed up as a private citizen, the State Department said.
But it was Kissinger who was warmly received by China's Xi Jinping and his right-hand men in diplomacy, while top-level US officials came and went without a face-to-face meeting with the paramount leader.
"The Chinese people never forget their old friends, and Sino-US relations will always be linked with the name of Henry Kissinger," Xi said.
Sitting across from Kissinger in the grand Diaoyutai State Guesthouse and flanked by giant bouquets, an upbeat Xi hailed the former US diplomat's legacy in China.
The intimate setting stood in contrast to Xi's meeting with State Secretary Antony Blinken a month earlier when discussions were held at the Great Hall of the People. Xi sat alone at the head of a massive table.
In line with China's tendency to favor one foreign official for top-level engagements, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, and special US envoy John Kerry were given meetings with lower-ranked officials when they visited.
But Washington bristled when Kissinger landed a sit-down with China's then-defense minister, Li Shangfu. China had rejected meetings between Li and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in May.
"It's unfortunate that a private citizen can meet with the defense minister and have a communication and the United States can't," White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said.
Such was Kissinger's reputation in China. The former State Secretary may have been divisive around the world, but in China, he is steeped in glory for his role in thawing relations with the US.
As both superpowers now hurtle toward what might be more hostility and competition, Xi's showering of attention on Kissinger was a clear signal that Communist China fondly remembers a time when Washington was bent on opening trade instead of closing it off.
On Wednesday, Chinese state media honored Kissinger once more with Xi's exact words from July, calling him an "old friend of the Chinese people who had a sharp vision and thorough understanding of world affairs."
Kissinger was renowned for his secret visits to China that paved the way for then-President Richard Nixon to meet with Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai in 1972.
Those historic meetings are often seen as a turning point in China's trajectory, propelling it into economic prosperity and shaping the nation into its current form.
Kissinger would go on to visit China repeatedly in the next five decades, with at least 100 trips under his belt by the time he passed.
With the diplomatic veteran now gone, those friendly, familiar blips in US-China relations are now at an end. All that remains for China is the nostalgia.
Read the original article on Business Insider