CIA Director William Burns made a covert trip to China in May for meetings with officials in a bid to restore deteriorating relations between Washington and Beijing, the Financial Times reported, citing five anonymous officials familiar with the situation.
The visit to China is Burns’ first and the most senior by any Biden administration official, underscoring how concerned the president is over deepening rifts in official communication between the competing countries, the FT reported. Yet, experts have raised concerns about the CIA director’s vulnerability to malign political influence from Beijing since the Daily Caller News Foundation revealed he formerly headed a Washington-based think tank employing undisclosed Chinese Communist Party (CCP) members.
He may have met with Chinese intelligence officials, according to the FT’s sources.
“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,” a U.S. official told the FT, suggesting Burns met with Chinese intelligence officials. (RELATED: EXCLUSIVE: Pentagon Funded Former Chinese Government Employee, CCP Member’s Nuclear Warfare Research)
President Joe Biden often dispatches Burns to carry out sensitive overseas missions on a parallel track to official diplomatic initiatives, according to the FT. He communicated the Biden administration’s opposition to former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan in August that severely angered China, the FT reported, citing several people familiar with the situation.
Burns’ visit took place the same month National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan met with Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi in Vienna, according to the FT. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin hoped to meet with his Chinese counterpart on the sidelines of the annual Asia-based Shangri-La defense summit this week but received a terse denial days before the event began.
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But in May, sometime after Burns completed his trip, Biden said he expected an imminent “thaw” in relations, according to the FT.
Paul Haenle, the director of the Carnegie China think tank, which Burns previously oversaw, told the FT Biden may have selected Burns because he has earned respect among Democrats and Republicans and is well-known to Chinese officials.
“They know him as a trusted interlocutor. They would welcome the opportunity to engage him quietly behind the scenes,” Haenle told the FT. “They will see a quiet discreet engagement with Burns as a perfect opportunity.”
The CIA did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.
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