CIA Director William Burns made a covert trip to China in May in an effort to open up communications with Chinese intelligence leaders in the aftermath of the appearance of a spy balloon over the U.S., according to multiple reports.
A source told the Financial Times that Burns’ trip was for the purpose of meeting with intelligence officials and that he did not have any “diplomatic engagements” while in the communist country.
“Last month, director Burns traveled to Beijing where he met with Chinese counterparts and emphasized the importance of maintaining open lines of communications in intelligence channels,” a U.S. official said.
President Joe Biden has been seeking a “thaw” in the relationship between the U.S. and China since a Chinese spy balloon was shot down in February off the coast of South Carolina after traveling over the continental U.S.
Last month, China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, met with White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan in Vienna for several hours. But tensions remain as China snubbed the Biden administration last weekend, rejecting a request from the Pentagon for a meeting between the top military officials of Washington and Beijing last weekend.
Prior to Burns’ trip, the top senior official to visit China from the Biden administration occurred in July 2021 when Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman visited. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was supposed to visit China in February, but his visit was canceled in the wake of the spy balloon controversy.
The Biden administration reportedly knew about the Chinese spy balloon sailing over the U.S. earlier than when it became widely known but kept quiet so as to not disrupt Blinken’s trip.
Bloomberg News reported that U.S. officials were “well aware” that the balloon had crossed into American airspace on January 28 and that it was over Idaho on Tuesday, but decided to not inform the public to not upend Blinken’s diplomatic trip to China.
Burns also has come under fire after newly disclosed records show that Jeffrey Epstein scheduled meetings with him in the years after the wealthy and well-connected financier registered as a child sex offender.
Burns, who became President Joe Biden’s CIA director in March 2021, had three meetings scheduled with Epstein in 2014 when Burns was deputy secretary of state, the documents show. The report mentioned a planned lunch in August at a law firm in Washington and two evening appointments in September at Epstein’s townhouse in Manhattan.