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

Jun 2, 2023, 7:59 AM

FILE - William Burns, center, enters a car after arriving at Capital International Airport in Beiji...

FILE - William Burns, center, enters a car after arriving at Capital International Airport in Beijing, May 1, 2012. A U.S. official says CIA Director William Burns went to Beijing in May to meet with Chinese counterparts. It's the highest level visit by a Biden administration official since a suspected Chinese spy balloon was shot down by American forces. (AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan, File)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — CIA Director William Burns went to Beijing in May to meet with Chinese counterparts, a U.S. official said on 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.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also spoke “briefly” 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.

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.

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