On shift, Biden chooses career diplomat, not politician, to become ambassador to China


WASHINGTON, Aug.20 (Reuters) – President Joe Biden is considering appointing veteran US diplomat Nicholas Burns as US ambassador to China, the White House said on Friday, signaling that the administration may seek the envoy to play a more central role in the increasingly strained relations between the two world rivals.

The choice of Burns, a retired foreign service career officer who served as Under Secretary of State between 2005 and 2008, marks a change for the role of Ambassador to Beijing, whose ranks during the decades have been filled by former politicians, not seasoned diplomats.

If confirmed by the Senate, Burns will visit China when relations between the two countries are at their lowest level in decades, and would occupy a post left vacant since October, following the resignation of the envoy. former President Donald Trump in China, Terry Branstad.

The United States and China, the world’s No.1 and No.2 economies, disagree on broad issues including trade, technology, coronavirus, Taiwan, and Chinese military activities in the South China Sea contested, each accusing the other of deliberately provocative behavior.

A new headache that Burns is expected to face is the fallout from the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and the chaotic US evacuation from Kabul, which have raised questions about the capacity of the United States. Biden administration to quickly focus on the Indo-Pacific region and counter China. Read more

China has not officially recognized the Taliban as the new rulers of Afghanistan, but its foreign minister, Wang Yi, last month welcomed Mullah Baradar, head of the group’s political bureau, and said the world should guide and support the country in its transition to a new government instead of putting more pressure on it. Read more


The White House also announced on Friday Biden’s intention to appoint Rahm Emanuel, a former U.S. lawmaker who served as chief of staff to former President Barack Obama and mayor of Chicago, as ambassador to Japan, a U.S. ally. increasingly at odds with Beijing. Read more

Burns said he looks forward to returning to the civil service, if confirmed by the Senate, and working on “strategic competition between the United States and the PRC (People’s Republic of China), as well as other difficult and complex challenges we face at this critical time. moment of our relationship.

Although Burns is not considered an expert on Chinese politics, neither were the four previous American ambassadors in Beijing.

He does, however, have close ties to Biden, having served as an advisor to his election campaign, and has worked closely over the years with some of the president’s most trusted advisers, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Former Republican President George W. Bush appointed Burns Undersecretary for Political Affairs, historically the third official in the State Department, with global responsibilities, where he served until 2008.

Evan Medeiros, an Asia scholar in the Obama administration now at Georgetown University, said Burns’ choice indicated Biden was looking for a new model of communication with Beijing at a time when regular high-level dialogues were drawing to a close. are atrophied in the face of increasingly ideological competition.

“What you are saying is that we need a working horse, not a show horse,” he said. “We want our ambassador to be among the key players in the relationship, and we need someone who understands the politics of the great powers.”

Trump had appointed Branstad, hoping the former governor of Iowa could leverage ties with Chinese officials – including Xi Jinping before he became China’s top leader – to help manage trade tensions . But the two sides still launched headlong into an unprecedented trade war.

As tensions between Beijing and Washington have intensified in recent years, the role of the Chinese-based US ambassador has been increasingly restricted, especially as Beijing has sought to reduce the engagement of the ambassador with ordinary people.

With the Biden administration indicating reluctance to return to the regular, structured, high-level dialogue Beijing is seeking, some analysts say the ambassador may take on a more central role as a result.

“The US ambassador to Beijing could again serve as both a messenger and a sounding board for Chinese officials,” said James Green, a former US official who has made several tours of the Beijing embassy.

He said the Biden administration would benefit from Burns’ “intimate understanding of the foreign policy bureaucracy” as well as a “clarity of message” in Beijing given his time as a spokesperson for the department. State in the mid-1990s.

Burns also served as the United States’ Ambassador to NATO and Greece. After retiring from the Foreign Service, he worked with the Cohen Group, a Washington consulting firm, and became a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

Reporting by Michael Martina and David Brunnstrom in Washington; additional reporting by Andrea Shalal Editing by Eric Beech, Jonathan Oatis and Matthew Lewis

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