Kissinger served two presidents, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, and dominated foreign policy as the United States withdrew from Vietnam and established ties with China. Image Credit: REUTERS

TOKYO: Polarised reaction poured in Thursday to the death of former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, which galvanised global attention decades after his official service as one of the most powerful diplomats in American history.

Kissinger, who died on Wednesday at 100, was praised as a skilled defender of US interests by world leaders. On social media he was widely called a war criminal who left lasting damage throughout the world.

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“America has lost one of the most dependable and distinctive voices” on foreign affairs, said former President George W. Bush, striking a tone that many high-level officials, past and present, tried to convey.

“I have long admired the man who fled the Nazis as a young boy from a Jewish family, then fought them in the United States Army,” Bush said in a statement. “When he later became Secretary of State, his appointment as a former refugee said as much about his greatness as it did America’s greatness.”

Kissinger served two presidents, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, and dominated foreign policy as the United States withdrew from Vietnam and established ties with China.

Kissinger’s death was a leading topic on social media in China, where he is revered for having engineered the opening of relations between the ruling Communist Party and Washington under Nixon.

Many online mourned the passing of “an old friend.” State broadcaster CCTV shared on social media an old segment showing Kissinger’s first secret visit to China in 1971, when he broached the possibility of establishing US-China relations and met with then-Premier Zhou Enlai.

Chinese Ambassador to the United States Xie Feng said he was “deeply shocked and saddened” by Kissinger’s death. “He will always remain alive in the hearts of the Chinese people as a most valued old friend.”

Criticism of Kissinger, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, was especially strong on social media, where many posted celebratory videos in reaction to his death.

Uncommon influence on global affairs

A Rolling Stone magazine headline said, “Henry Kissinger, war criminal beloved by America’s ruling class, finally dies.”

“Henry Kissinger’s bombing campaign likely killed hundreds of thousands of Cambodians — and set (a) path for the ravages of the Khmer Rouge,” Sophal Ear, a scholar at Arizona State University who studies Cambodia’s political economy, wrote on The Conversation.

“The cluster bombs dropped on Cambodia under Kissinger’s watch continue to destroy the lives of any man, woman or child who happens across them,” Sophal Ear wrote.

Kissinger exerted uncommon influence on global affairs long after he left office. In July, for instance, he met Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Beijing while US-Chinese relations were at a low point.

Nixon’s daughters, Tricia Nixon Cox and Julie Nixon Eisenhower, said their father and Kissinger enjoyed “a partnership that produced a generation of peace for our nation.”

Kissinger initiated the Paris negotiations that ultimately provided a face-saving means to get the United States out of a costly war in Vietnam.

“Dr. Kissinger played an important role in the historic opening to the People’s Republic of China and in advancing détente with the Soviet Union, bold initiatives which initiated the beginning of the end of the Cold War. His ‘shuttle diplomacy’ to the Middle East helped to advance the relaxation of tensions in that troubled region of the world,” the Nixon daughters said in a statement.

Israeli President Issac Herzog told US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Tel Aviv on Thursday that Blinken is “following in the footsteps of a giant, a titan, Dr. Henry Kissinger who has left us peacefully tonight.”

“He laid the cornerstone of the peace agreement, which (was) later signed with Egypt, and so many other processes around the world I admire,” Herzog said. ”I always felt his love and compassion for Israel in his belief in the Jewish state.”

Blinken said Kissinger “really set the standard for everyone who followed in this job. I was very privileged to get his counsel many times, including as recently as about a month ago. He was extraordinarily generous with his wisdom, with his advice. Few people were better students of history. Even fewer people did more to shape history than Henry Kissinger.”

Leaders of Kissinger’s native Germany paid tribute to the former secretary of state.

“His commitment to the transatlantic friendship between the USA and Germany was significant, and he always remained close to his German homeland,” Chancellor Olaf Scholz wrote on X, formerly called Twitter.

In a message of condolences to Kissinger’s family, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier wrote that “with his détente and disarmament policy, Henry Kissinger laid the foundation for the end of the Cold War and the democratic transition in eastern Europe” which led to Germany’s reunification.

Steinmeier recalled that Kissinger traveled to his native Fuerth in June to mark his 100th birthday a few weeks earlier, “and it moved me very much to see that this country, which once pushed him out, had once again become a piece of home for him.”