Who is Nicholas Burns, Biden’s nominee for the US ambassador to China?

Who is Nicholas Burns, Biden’s nominee for the US ambassador to China?
Nicholas Burns, U.S. Undersecretary for Political Affairs, gestures during a news conference at the end of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) ministerial meeting in Madrid November 30, 2007. REUTERS/Sergio Perez
China and the US are at odds over a myriad of issues including, human rights, Taiwan, Hong Kong, trade, coronavirus and the widely-disputed region of the South China Sea.

Who is Nicholas Burns?

  • Nicholas Burns is a career diplomat and has served under both Democratic and Republican presidents in his nearly four-decade career.
  • He started his career working at embassies in Egypt and Mauritania, and eventually as the American Consulate General in Jerusalem.
  • After that, he worked for the National Security Council at the White House as a point man for things related to Eastern Europe and Eurasia, and as a special assistant to former President Bill Clinton.
  • For a while, he was the Department of State’s Spokesperson and just following that, he was appointed as the Ambassador to Greece. After that, he was the United States Ambassador to North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
  • Now he teaches International Diplomacy at Harvard’s Kennedy School.

Why is Biden choosing Burns?

  • Burns nomination marks a big shift for the role because over the past decade, the ambassador to Beijing has been filled by former politicians, not diplomats.
  • But Burns is respected from both sides of the aisle as a diplomat, and his qualifications show that Biden is making sure to put someone in China that will be able to keep things stable.
  • If Biden’s nomination is confirmed by the Senate, Burns would fill this role during a time where the relations between the two superpowers are at their lowest point in decades.
  • With Burns’ résumé, he’s seen as a great person to present and execute things that aren’t necessarily popular in China, while also keeping a somewhat stable relationship.
  • Burns could also be helpful in China as someone who could convince the Chinese to cooperate with the US where there are mutual interests, such as with climate change.

What does China think of Burns?

  • Chinese media has been relatively positive about Burns as the US ambassador, with policy researchers voicing optimism for the choice.
  • “Although it is unlikely the Biden administration will change its China strategy after Burns assumes his new role, his coming to the position will at least help boost the level and quality of bilateral communication and contacts,” said Diao Daming, a professor of US studies in China, in a piece by the China News Service, the second largest state-owned news agency.
  • “This could be viewed as a positive signal with limited effect on China-US relations,” he added in the piece.
  • The piece also noted that having someone fill the vacancy, which has been open since October of last year, is progress in itself especially from the previous administration’s attitude toward the country.

When will Burns fill the role?

  • On August 20, Biden announced that Burns was his nominee for the position.
  • Some say that Biden’s decision about Burns had been made up for months, but the announcement was delayed because host countries are required to sign off on selections like this one.
  • “I welcome this opportunity to work on behalf of the president and the American people on the strategic competition between the US and the PRC,” said Burns in a statement about his nomination.
  • The timeline for Burns’ confirmation hearing in front of the Senate isn’t set in stone yet, but it isn’t expected that he will have any problems being confirmed.
  • It will likely take several weeks for him to be confirmed and to assume the role officially.

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