CIA Director Bill Burns took a secret trip to China in May

CIA Director William Burns took his first trip to China in May after tensions over the downing of a Chinese spy balloon prompted Beijing to halt regular calls.

WASHINGTON — CIA Director William Burns visited Beijing last month, his first trip to China since becoming the head of the intelligence agency for the Biden administration, a U.S. official familiar with the visit told NBC News.

Burns went to Beijing to meet with his Chinese counterparts “to emphasize the importance of maintaining open lines of communication and intelligence channels,” the official said. The visit was first reported by the Financial Times.

The CIA director was in China after Beijing had broken off most regular calls between senior diplomatic, intelligence and military officials in the aftermath of the U.S. shootdown of a Chinese spy balloon in early February.

The Biden administration has attempted to restart high-level talks between the U.S. and China in recent weeks. White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan, for example, had an hourslong meeting with China’s most senior diplomat, Wang Yi, on May 11. Days earlier, the U.S. ambassador to China, Nicholas Burns, met with Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang in Beijing. And Xie Feng, Beijing’s new ambassador to Washington, arrived in the U.S. just last week to take up a position that had been vacant for four months.

President Joe Biden recently predicted a “thaw very soon” between Washington and Beijing during the G7 summit in Hiroshima, Japan, during which the members of the group of leading industrialized nations expressed plans to cooperate with China economically but act tougher in areas such as human rights, Taiwan and Beijing’s aggression in the South China Sea

Tensions between the U.S. and China escalated after the balloon incident earlier this year. State Department officials have been waiting to reschedule a trip to Beijing by Secretary of State Antony Blinken that had been postponed because of the incident.  

Meanwhile, a call between Biden and President Xi Jinping that Biden said in February would happen “soon” has still not taken place.

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