The Director of the CIA, William Burns, emphasized the importance of keeping communication open between China and the United States.
In an effort to improve communications between Beijing and Washington, the director of the CIA, William Burns, visited China last month for talks with his Chinese counterparts, a US official said.
Burns’ visit in May, first reported by the Financial Times, comes as Washington tries to calm tensions with Beijing and restore lines of communication amid fears that miscommunication between the two world powers could accidentally spiral into conflict.
News of the visit to China comes as US President Joe Biden’s administration has pressed to restore contact and schedule meetings between various senior officials in Washington and Beijing.
“Last month, Director Burns traveled to Beijing, where he met with his Chinese counterparts and emphasized the importance of maintaining open lines of communication in intelligence channels,” a US official told Reuters news agency on Friday.
Burns met with Chinese intelligence officials and not any of Beijing’s foreign or political leadership, according to a second person familiar with the visit who also spoke on condition of anonymity.
The CIA, which does not regularly publicize such visits, declined to comment on reports of Burns’ trip to China.
Relations between Beijing and Washington have come under severe strain in recent months over issues ranging from the human rights record of Taiwan and China to Beijing’s growing military activity in the South China Sea and close ties with Russia.
Washington accuses China of considering providing military aid to Moscow to support its invasion of Ukraine. China denied those allegations.
Some critics of the Biden administration have questioned the value of Washington’s overtures to Beijing, saying decades of engagement have failed to change China’s approach to a range of issues, including trade, security and human rights.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has postponed a trip to China in February amid a diplomatic storm after an alleged Chinese spy balloon was shot down over US airspace and over sensitive military sites.
On Friday, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also shook hands with Chinese National Defense Minister Li Changfu on the sidelines of a security summit in Singapore, but there was no “substantive exchange,” the Pentagon said.
China earlier refused to hold an official meeting between Austin and Lee, who is subject to US sanctions, during the Shangri-La Security Summit, which will be held in the next few days.
In 2018, Washington imposed sanctions on the Equipment Development Department (EED) of the Chinese Ministry of Defense, and its then director Li, for purchasing missiles and combat aircraft from Russia.
The sanctions led to a US visa ban and banned the European Endowment for Democracy and Lee from conducting transactions with the US financial system.
Speaking at the summit on Saturday, Austin said dialogue between the United States and China is “essential” and will help avoid miscalculations that could lead to conflict.
The United States believes that lines of communication are open with the People’s Republic of China [PRC] Austin said in remarks at the summit.
“The more we talk, the more we can avoid misunderstandings and miscalculations that could lead to crisis or conflict,” he said.
Separately, White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on Friday that the United States wants to engage with China “without preconditions” on nuclear arms control issues, but that Beijing is still unwilling to do so.
“Simply put, we have not yet seen a PRC willingness to separate strategic stability from the broader issues in the relationship,” Sullivan said in a speech to the Arms Control Association, noting that this has been a bedrock of nuclear and strategic security for decades.
“That is why we are also willing to engage China without preconditions, which helps ensure that competition is managed, and that competition does not deviate into conflict,” he said.
“We will see what the People’s Republic of China chooses,” he added.