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CIA Director William Burns met Chinese leaders in Beijing as Washington tries to thaw tensions

By NOMAAN MERCHANT, Associated Press
Published: June 2, 2023, 4:52pm

WASHINGTON (AP) — CIA Director William Burns went to Beijing in May to meet with Chinese counterparts, a U.S. official said Friday, in what is the highest level visit by a Biden administration official since a suspected Chinese spy balloon was shot down by American forces.

Burns’ visit, first reported by The Financial Times, comes as Washington tries to cool tensions with Beijing over the balloon and other recent conflicts between the world’s two largest economies and geopolitical rivals.

U.S. officials have long warned that China rejects their efforts at outreach. That raises the possibility of miscommunication spiraling into conflict, they say.

“Last month, Director Burns traveled to Beijing where he met with Chinese counterparts and emphasized the importance of maintaining open lines of communication in intelligence channels,” said a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss Burns’ schedule, which is classified.

Burns only met with intelligence officials and not any of Beijing’s political or foreign policy leadership, according to a second person familiar with the visit who also spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the trip.

President Joe Biden has often sent Burns on sensitive trips to meet U.S. adversaries. Burns went to Moscow in late 2021 to confront Russian President Vladimir Putin about indications that Russia was gearing up to launch a new invasion of Ukraine.

The U.S. is still trying to reschedule Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s trip to China after it was canceled as the Chinese balloon was flying over American territory.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also spoke “briefly” on Friday with Li Shangfu, China’s minister of national defense, at the opening dinner of a security forum in Singapore. China had earlier rejected Austin’s request for a meeting on the sidelines of the forum.

Also on Friday, a top Treasury official, Undersecretary for International Affairs Jay Shambaugh, met with Xie Feng, China’s ambassador in Washington. According to the Treasury Department, Shambaugh spoke to Xie about the importance of “closely communicating on global macroeconomic and financial issues.”