Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger visited China this week for meetings with senior officials and was told that any Western effort to transform China or encircle the country was “impossible.”

Wang Yi, director of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Foreign Affairs Office, said in a statement that Mr. Kissinger is one of China’s “old friends” who played an “irreplaceable role” in launching U.S.-China relations during the 1970s.

In apparent reference to the 40-year U.S. engagement policy with China that sought to moderate Beijing’s communist system, Mr. Wang declared China cannot be transformed or forced to give up its communist system.

“China’s development has a strong endogenous momentum and inevitable historical logic, and it is impossible to try to transform China, and it is even more impossible to encircle and contain China,” Mr. Wang said. “The U.S. policy toward China needs Kissinger-style diplomatic wisdom and Nixon-style political courage.”

For several decades after Mao Zedong died, China under Deng Xiaoping moderated its communist system and pursued private-sector reforms that resulted in large-scale development and the creation of the world’s second largest economy after the U.S.

But current Chinese President Xi Jinping has revived communist ideology and policies, while quasi-capitalistic policies are being curbed or replaced.

On Tuesday, Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu told Mr. Kissinger in a meeting that global tensions are increasing, and that Washington bore much of the blame.

“The U.S. should have a correct strategic judgment,” the Defense Ministry quoted him as saying in a statement on the meeting. “The future of our world will be better only when emerging countries and developed countries live in peace and develop together.”

Gen. Li blamed “some people” in the United States for the decline in U.S.-China ties, while Mr. Kissinger reportedly told Gen. Li that he had traveled to Beijing “as a friend of China.”

“The United States and China should eliminate misunderstandings, coexist peacefully and avoid confrontation,” Mr. Kissinger was quoted him as saying. “If the two countries go to war, it will not lead to any meaningful results for the two peoples.”

Mr. Kissinger urged renewed communications between the U.S. and Chinese militaries, which Beijing has put on hold. Gen. Li turned down a meeting with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to protest U.S. sanctions on the defense minister regarding Russian arms sales.

At the State Department, spokesman Matthew Miller said the department is aware of the Kissinger visit, noting that it was a private visit.

“I will say he was there under his own volition, not acting on behalf of the United States government,” Mr. Miller said. He said the former secretary of state may brief State Department officials on his trip.

As to meeting with the sanctioned Gen. Li, Mr. Miller said, “We would object to anyone violating our sanctions, but it is not my understanding that a meeting violates those sanctions. In fact, we have said that we believe our own secretary of defense could meet with the sanctioned defense minister, and that would be appropriate to do.”

According to the Chinese statement, Mr. Kissinger said both the United States and China should keep stable relations.

“No matter how difficult it is, both sides should treat each other as equals and maintain contact, and it is unacceptable to try to isolate or cut off the other side,” the statement quoted Mr. Kissinger as saying.

Mr. Kissinger, who turned 100 this year, was the architect of the Cold War policy of playing the “China Card” — seeking relations with communist China to counterbalance the Soviet Union. Since leaving government, Mr. Kissinger reportedly made tens of millions of dollars in China through Kissinger Associates, a consulting business that facilitated deals in China for U.S. companies.

In a recent interview with Bloomberg News, Mr. Kissinger said he believed a war between the United States and China is “probable” unless relations improve.

The visit to China by Mr. Kissinger coincided with a third high-level visit by John Kerry, President Biden’s climate envoy and also a former secretary of state. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen have made visits to Beijing in recent weeks in an effort to ease bilateral strains.

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