Biden's CIA head pick set to use espionage to serve diplomacy
Published: Feb 24, 2021 09:35 PM

William Burns. Photo: VCG

President Joe Biden's choice of career diplomat William Burns to lead the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) shows that the Biden administration wants espionage to serve US diplomacy, Chinese analysts said as the veteran foreign service officer is facing the Senate intelligence committee on Wednesday US time for his confirmation hearing.

Burns, a 33-year US State Department veteran, has served under both Republican and Democratic presidents, acting as ambassador to Russia under former US President George W. Bush and as deputy secretary of state under Barack Obama, according to the VOA.

Burns is the first career foreign service officer chosen to run the CIA. Fluent in Arabic, Russian, and French, Burns' renowned diplomatic achievements were mostly gained in issues related to the Middle East and Russia, such as playing a significant role in realizing the Iranian nuclear deal, and also served as US Ambassador to Russia from 2005-2008. But he also made some contacts with China, according to his published memoirs.

In his book, The Back Channel: A Memoir of American Diplomacy and the Case for Its Renewal, Burns used the word "uneasy" to describe his exchanges with Chinese officials, and he also recalled his argument with Chinese officials on cybersecurity issues, and during Obama's term, he came to China several times to discuss matters related to Russia, Afghanistan and Iran, the VOA reported.

Lü Xiang, an expert on US politics at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, told the Global Times on Wednesday that the CIA has always cooperated with US diplomats closely, and the CIA's espionage operations against China have never stopped. Since Biden has identified China as the most serious competitor, the CIA's activities against China will continue and even be strengthened, while China's anti-espionage authority is also fully prepared. 

Diao Daming, an expert on US studies at the Renmin University of China, told the Global Times that Burns is one of the establishment elites. Unlike Mike Pompeo, a former CIA head who served as secretary of state in the Trump administration with the image of "We Lied, We Cheated, We Stole" that made US diplomatic style more like CIA espionage activities, Burns could shape a more decent image.

To appoint a career diplomat as CIA head, Biden wants his diplomatic talents to make  US espionage operations better serve US diplomacy, Diao said, adding that his experiences in Russia and Iran could mean that US intelligence operations against Moscow and Tehran would be greatly strengthened as well.