President Joe Biden is nominating veteran U.S. diplomat Nicholas Burns to serve as the U.S. ambassador to China, the White House announced on Aug. 20.
If confirmed by the Senate, Burns would be the first career diplomat to fill the role in recent years, as the position has been occupied by former politicians over the past decade.
During the administration of President George W. Bush, Burns served as the U.S. ambassador to NATO and undersecretary of state for political affairs—historically the State Department’s third-ranking official. He was also the U.S. ambassador to Greece under President Bill Clinton. Burns is currently a professor of international relations at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.
Burns faces Senate confirmation at a time when countering threats posed by the Chinese regime enjoys rare bipartisan support in Congress. The Biden administration is rallying allies to push back against Beijing over a range of issues, from its human rights abuses to its military aggression in the South China Sea.
While Burns isn’t seen as a China policy specialist, neither were the previous four U.S. ambassadors to China. The post has been vacant since October, after former President Donald Trump’s envoy to China, Terry Branstad, stepped down.
Burns, however, has ties to Biden, having served as an adviser to his election campaign and having worked closely over the years with some of Biden’s most trusted advisers, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Last month, the Chinese regime’s new envoy to the United States, Qin Gang, arrived in Washington, pledging to get U.S.–China relations “back on track” amid heightening tensions. In contrast, during two high-level, in-person meetings between Chinese diplomats and Biden officials in 2021, Chinese Communist Party officials took an aggressive tone, lambasting the United States over an array of alleged abuses at home and abroad.
Reuters contributed to this report.