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Updated Nov. 30, 2023, 01:40 a.m. ET.

Henry Kissinger, who served under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford died Wednesday at the age of 100, his consulting firm said.

A controversial figure, who played a pivotal role in the United States’s withdrawal from Vietnam and helped build bridges with China, Kissinger continued to be involved in foreign policy up to his later years, albeit in an unofficial capacity, meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping in July when he was hailed as an “old friend.”

Kissinger won a Nobel Peace Prize but was heavily criticized for his policies on Southeast Asia and support for Latin American dictators, helping orchestrate the toppling of Chile’s democratically elected president, Salvador Allende.

He was also described as a war criminal by his detractors partly due to the massive U.S. bombing of North Vietnam and Cambodia.

As secretary of state under Nixon, Kissinger helped bring about the opening up of China to the West, arms control talks with the USSR, improved relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors and the Paris Peace Accords with North Vietnam that ended U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.

Serving under President Nixon during the Watergate scandal, Kissinger emerged relatively unscathed and continued in his role as Secretary of State under Gerald Ford although he was stripped of his role as national security advisor.

When Ford lost to Jimmy Carter in 1976, Kissinger left government to set up a consulting firm, advising corporate leaders, writing books and appearing regularly in the media.

“The world has lost a tireless advocate for peace,” Winston Lord, a former U.S. ambassador to China and Kissinger’s former special assistant at the National Security Council told Reuters. 

“America has lost a towering champion for the national interest. I have lost a cherished friend and mentor. Henry blended the European sense of tragedy and the American immigrant’s sense of hope. 

“During more than seven decades, he transformed America’s role in the world, held the nation together during a constitutional crisis, crafted visionary volumes, counseled world leaders, and enriched the national and international discourse.”

Born Heinz Alfred Kissinger in Germany in 1923, Kissinger moved to the U.S. in 1938, escaping the Nazi holocaust.

He became an American citizen in 1943 and served in the U.S. army in World War Two.

He was married twice, to Ann Fleischer with whom he had two children, and then Nancy Maginnes.

Kissinger visited China more than 100 times. State broadcaster CCTV hailed his "historic contribution to the opening of the door to US-China relations," AFP reported.

It called Kissinger "an important witness who experienced the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the United States and the development of the relationship between the two countries".

China’s ambassador to the U.S. Xie Feng said he was “deeply shocked and saddened” to learn of Kissinger’s death.

“History will remember what the centenarian had contributed to China-U.S. relations,” he said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

“He will always remain alive in the hearts of the Chinese people as a most valued old friend.”

Edited by Taejun Kang and Elaine Chan.

Updated to include comments from CCTV and China's ambassador to the U.S.

This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by By Mike Firn for RFA.