(Bloomberg) -- China paid tribute to Henry Kissinger, the former US secretary of state who helped open the Asian nation to the West, portraying him as invaluable to building ties between the two economic superpowers.

“He made historic contributions to the normalization of China-US relations, which not only benefited both countries but also changed the world,” Chinese leader Xi Jinping said in a message to President Joe Biden, according to the official Xinhua News agency. 

Xie Feng, Beijing’s ambassador to the US, called Kissinger’s death “a tremendous loss for both our countries and the world.” Xie added in a post on X, the social media site formerly known as Twitter, that the diplomat “will always remain alive in the hearts of the Chinese people as a most valued old friend.”

See: Henry Kissinger, Secretary of State in 1970s Crises, Dies at 100

State media echoed that language, with China News Service saying on Thursday that “this ‘old friend of the Chinese people,’ who had witnessed the ups-and-downs of world affairs with a sharp vision, has completed his legendary life.” 

Kissinger remained China’s preferred go-between with Washington until just before he died at age 100. The former US diplomat met Xi in July as Beijing turned to familiar faces to find common ground as relations with the US had frayed.

Kissinger was also given a meeting with former Defense Minister Li Shangfu, who had earlier refused to meet US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in Singapore. Kissinger told Li that “neither the US or China can afford the price of treating each other as enemy.”

China has said Kissinger visited the country more than 100 times since a clandestine journey in 1971 that paved the way for the restoration of official relations. That meant he met every key Chinese leader since Mao Zedong and was repeatedly feted by state media for being an “old friend of the Chinese people.”

Former Vice Foreign Minister Fu Ying said Kissinger “was probably one of the few people in the US who was not very surprised of China’s progress because he felt it and followed it every step of the way.”

“That is why he is seen as a friend by the Chinese people,” she said.

More: China Enlists Kissinger to Translate as US Talks Hit Wall

Josef Gregory Mahoney, a professor of international relations at Shanghai’s East China Normal University, said Kissinger’s “passing will be mourned in Beijing as a major loss.”

He added that while the diplomat’s legacy of helping the countries build ties in the 1970s has come under attack in the US recently, the Asian nation “has continued to celebrate that history and Kissinger’s role of effectively ending China’s role in the first Cold War.” 

Underscoring Kissinger’s significance to people in China, news of the former diplomat’s death was one of the most discussed topics on the Weibo social media site Thursday, attracting some 500 million views.

--With assistance from Evelyn Yu.

(Updates with additional comment in fourth paragraph.)

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