George HW Bush Remembered As An ‘Old Friend’ In China For Ignoring Henry Kissinger’s Instructions

Former President George H.W. Bush shakes hands with young children in China that have received cleft lip surgery through Simle Train on November 15, 2005.
China Photos / Getty Images

Former President George H.W. Bush had a lasting impression on millions of lives, and after his death on November 30, a number of people have paid their respects with words of praise and appreciation for the late president. One man that has offered his condolences is Chinese President Xi Jinping, who leads a country that the South China Morning Post reported “deeply respected” the former president — and one which considers him “an old friend.”

During a meeting with President Donald Trump at last week’s G20 Summit in Argentina, CNN noted that President Xi Jinping expressed that he was “greatly saddened” by the late president’s passing, and praised his role in improving the relationship between China and the United States.

The South China Morning Post also reported other international-relations experts speaking highly of Bush, including Pang Zhongying, who remembered the late president for his “lasting imprint on US-China ties with his tremendous job in forging closer relations since the early 1970s.”

Bush is remembered as the “unofficial ambassador” of the United States to China, serving as head of the U.S. liaison office in Beijing in the mid-1970s despite being instructed not to do so by Henry Kissinger — who the South Moon China Post noted was critical of the late president for being “too ‘soft’ for power diplomacy and statecraft.”

During the years before his presidency, he was known for his bike rides through the Chinese capital with his wife Barbara, and had formed strong bonds with not only the leaders of the country, but its government and culture as a whole.

“He did bond with the country. I think (after he left) he felt a certain custodial sense towards China,” Asia’s Society Center on US-China relations director Orville Schell told CNN.

The relations continued under his new title as president. Shortly after his election to the position in 1988, the previously “all time high” relationship between the two countries was damaged after the Tiananmen Square massacre on June 4, 1989.

While his administration immediately imposed sanctions on the Chinese government in the aftermath of the event, the president controversially chose to reach out to Beijing’s leadership in private to keep the relationship intact, an act that was truly defining of George H.W. Bush in the minds of the Chinese.

“Deng Xiaoping never forgot that after 1989, when China’s luck was really down and Deng was smarting from a terrible self-inflicted wound, Bush came to the rescue,” Schell said.

Post presidency, the first Bush made a number of visits back to China, where he was always given what Southern Methodist University’s Center for Presidential History director Jeffrey Engel described as an “amazing” reception.

“He was not greeted as a former President, he was greeted a President…,” said Engel, who traveled with Bush during his visits in 2006. “He remarked at the time, nowhere else in the world did they treat him with as much reverence as when he went to China.”

And the feelings was mutual — in the foreword to The China Diary of George H.W. Bush, the former president expressed his immense adoration for the country.

“I love the Chinese people,” he wrote. “One of my dreams for our world is that these two powerful giants will continue working toward a full partnership and friendship that will bring peace and prosperity to people everywhere.”