CIA director Burns reportedly made the trip last month
US President Joe Biden dispatched CIA Director William Burns to Beijing last month to meet with Chinese intelligence officials, Financial Times reported on Friday, citing anonymous American sources.
The outlet described Burns as "one of [Biden's] most trusted officials" and said the visit showed "how concerned the White House had become about deteriorating relations between Beijing and Washington."
While neither the White House nor the CIA have officially confirmed the visit, FT relied on "five people familiar with the situation." One of them, identified only as a US official, said that Burns "met with Chinese counterparts and emphasized the importance of maintaining open lines of communications in intelligence channels."
It was not clear whether Burns traveled to Beijing before or after the May 10 meeting between Biden's National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and China's highest-ranking diplomat, Wang Yi, in Vienna. The White House announced the meeting only after it had ended.
However, FT specified that the CIA director visited China before the May 19 summit of the G7 in Hiroshima, at which Biden made a cryptic comment about expecting an immediate "thaw" in Sino-US relations.
As of last week, there were no signs of such a thaw, at least in the military sphere. The Pentagon complained on May 25 that China was not responding to the US military's overtures. Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu refused to meet with his US counterpart Lloyd Austin at the Shangri-La Dialogue conference in Singapore last weekend. The US had sanctioned Li in 2018 for his involvement in buying weapons systems from Russia.
Burns is a former diplomat who spent three years as the US ambassador to Russia (2005-2008) and deputy secretary of state before retiring in 2014. Biden appointed him CIA director in 2021. He has a history of secret missions on Biden's behalf, going to Moscow in November 2021 and Kiev in January 2022, just before the Ukraine conflict escalated.
In April, he admitted the CIA was "blindsided" by the Chinese-mediated deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia.