The veteran US diplomat Henry Kissinger has met China’s defence minister in Beijing.

According to a readout on Tuesday from the Chinese defence ministry, Li Shangfu said “friendly communication” between China and the US had been “destroyed” because “some people in the United States did not meet China halfway”. Kissinger said he was a “friend of China”, according to the readout.

If Kissinger is not acting as a diplomat in an official capacity, how could it help improve U.S.-China ties? I am guessing that he has ties with current politicians and officials, but wouldn't that amount to nothing? China also invited business people like Elon Musk and Bill Gates and I don't see how that would help improve relation, so is this visit more significant than those and likely to help more ease current tensions and why?

  • 3
    If you are interested on people without any official diplomatic capacity playing a significant role in international relations at some point, you can read en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ping-pong_diplomacy
    – Pere
    Aug 6, 2023 at 13:29

2 Answers 2


Scholars and analysts categorize diplomatic exchanges into different tracks.

  • Track I describes talks between government officials of different countries. When they talk, what they say represents the official position of their country.
  • Track II describes talks between between people who do not officially represent their government, but who are presumed to know the current policy debates in their respective countries, and who can take messages back to their governments. What they say represents an unofficial indication of the position of their country.
  • At times, Track 1.5 is used to describe talks between officials on one side and non-officials on the other side.

As a former government official, Kissinger's visit does not bind the US government in any way, and officially his visit was called "private." Yet it shows China and the World that the United States is interested in maintaining talks.


Kissinger, as Secretary of State in Nixon's administration was instrumental in thawing relations between the USA and China. He secretly visited China in 1971 after the Sino-Russian split with Nixon following the next year on a public seven day trip which eventually led to full diplomatic engagement in 1979. Thus in China's eyes he's seen as a friend from warmer times.

Given the chilly atmosphere between the two major powers there has been some effort on the US side to restabilise the relationship with three top officials - Blinken, Kerry & Yellen visiting. These visits, whilst correct were not warm.

The fulsome welcome provided by China to the private visit by Kissinger, according to Politico, sends a subtle signal to Washington that China is looking back to a time when relations were much warmer. Obviously, as a private citizen, Kissinger can't speak for US interests officially. But this is soft power politics.

  • 1
    Could you include a link to the Politico article you mention please?
    – JJJ
    Aug 11, 2023 at 6:37
  • @JJJ: typing in keywords like "china visit Kissinger politico" in Google brings up the relevant article as the top search item. Until stack exchange feels fit to pay for people for their work in driving up their value, I don't feel the need to provide links. My posts are accurately sourced and that should be enough. Aug 11, 2023 at 7:03

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .