Facts have emerged that CIA director Bill Burns was secretly in China in May to reset diplomatic relations with the mighty Asian country. Burns is the highest White House official under the Biden administration to visit China, most especially after the soured incident of a Chinese spy balloon flying over the United States.
Diplomatic experts agree that Burns visit to China marks Washington’s efforts to normalize relations with Beijing. Top analysts believe that the CIA director and former diplomat is the most qualified to negotiate peace with Beijing given his experience with delicate overseas missions. He had been to Russia before the invasion of Ukraine to dissuade the operation and was said to be working to keep communication lines open between Washington and Beijing.
“Last month, director Burns traveled to Beijing where he met with Chinese counterparts and emphasized the importance of maintaining open lines of communications in intelligence channels,” said one US official.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken was scheduled to visit China earlier this year but postponed the trip due to the spy balloon incident for which China was enraged that it was shot down. “The US claims that it wants to strengthen communication, but in reality it disregards China’s concerns and creates artificial obstacles, seriously undermining mutual trust between the two militaries,” said China’s Ministry of Defense spokesperson Tan Kefei.
The Biden administration had been trying to meet with Chinese officials after the February balloon incident, but Beijing had been evading the possibility of any talks. US Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, met briefly with Chinese defense minister Li Shangfu in Singapore at the Shangri-La security conference but didn’t do more than a handshake because of a US sanction on him.
“Secretary Austin and PRC Minister of National Defense Li Shangfu spoke briefly at tonight’s opening dinner of the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore,” Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said. “The two leaders shook hands but did not have a substantive exchange. The Department believes in maintaining open lines of military-to-military communication with the PRC – and will continue to seek meaningful military-to-military discussions at multiple levels to responsibly manage the relationship.”
US officials and academics believe Burns has the trust and experiential qualifications to broker peace between Washington and Beijing in a way that would de-escalate the tensions of the cold war. Bonnie Glaser, a China expert at the German Marshall Fund, said: “As both an experienced diplomat and senior intelligence official, Burns is uniquely placed to engage in a dialogue that can potentially contribute to the Biden administration’s objective of stabilizing ties and putting a floor under the relationship.”