Global leaders paid tribute to former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger on Thursday, but there was also sharp criticism of the man who remained an influential figure decades after his official service as one of the most powerful diplomats in American history.
Kissinger, who died Wednesday at 100, drew praise as a skilled defender of U.S. interests. On social media, though, he was widely called a war criminal who left lasting damage throughout the world.
"America has lost one of the most dependable and distinctive voices" on foreign affairs, said former President George W. Bush, striking a tone shared by many high-level officials past and present.
"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.
In China, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin called Kissinger an "old friend and good friend of the Chinese people, and a pioneer and builder of China-U.S. relations."
Many on social media in China mourned his passing. 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 U.S.-China relations and met then-Premier Zhou Enlai.
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 U.S.-Chinese relations were at a low point.
Criticism of Kissinger, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in negotiating a cease-fire in Vietnam in 1973, was especially strong on social media, where many posted celebratory videos in reaction to his death.
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.
The head of the independent Documentation Center of Cambodia, Youk Chhang, described Kissinger’s legacy as "controversial" though not widely debated in the country. Well over half of the population was born after the Khmer Rouge were ousted in 1979, and even those who lived through the civil war and the group's brutal rule recall the U.S. involvement and its B-52 bombers, "but not Henry Kissinger," he said.
Kissinger initiated the Paris negotiations that ultimately provided a face-saving means to get the United States out of a costly war in Vietnam.
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."
"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," the Nixon daughters said in a statement. "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.
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said he was "in awe" of Kissinger.
"Of course, like anyone who has confronted the most difficult problems of international politics, he was criticized at times, even denounced," Blair said. But I believe he was always motivated not from a coarse ‘realpolitik,’ but from a genuine love of the free world and the need to protect it. He was a problem solver, whether in respect of the Cold War, the Middle East or China and its rise."
Israeli President Isaac Herzog said as he met U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Tel Aviv that Kissinger "laid the cornerstone of the peace agreement, which (was) later signed with Egypt, and so many other processes around the world I admire."
Blinken said Kissinger "really set the standard for everyone who followed in this job" and that he was "very privileged to get his counsel many times, including as recently as about a month ago."
"Few people were better students of history," he said. "Even fewer people did more to shape history than Henry Kissinger."
Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a message to Kissinger's wife that he was "a wise and far-sighted statesman" and his name "is inextricably linked with a pragmatic foreign policy line, which at one time made it possible to achieve detente in international tensions and reach the most important Soviet-American agreements that contributed to the strengthening of global security."
French President Emmanuel Macron wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, that "Henry Kissinger was a giant of history. His century of ideas and of diplomacy had a lasting influence on his time and on our world."
Leaders of Kissinger's native Germany paid tribute to the former diplomat, a Jew who fled Nazi rule with his family in his teens.
"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.
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.
Moulson reported from Berlin. AP journalists around the world contributed to this story.