U.S. Ambassador Signals Willingness to Restore Dialogue with China

U.S. Ambassador Signals Willingness to Restore Dialogue with China
Nicholas Burns

The Lede:  U.S. Ambassador to China, Nichols Burns, made comments that convey Washington’s desire to re-engage diplomatic channels with China.

What We Know:

  • Ambassador to Burns spoke at an event organized by the Stimson Center, a think tank in Washington, where he highlighted the need for high-level talks and better communication channels between the two countries.
  • He acknowledged that the U.S. relationship with China remains complicated and competitive, but rather than conflict with Beijing he believes in a return to dialogue.
  • These comments put forth the message that the Biden administration wants to improve communications between the superpowers after years of declining relations.  

The Background: The U.S. relationship with China has been strained over the years by competitive trade conditions and tensions over Taiwan. Most recently, a Chinese balloon’s presence in American airspace led Secretary of State Antony Blinken to cancel a visit to China that was originally scheduled in February. Diplomatic channels have deteriorated in the last presidential administrations. Neither country has confirmed when or if respective officials would be welcome again for high-level meetings.

Likely Outcomes:

  • China may respond to these overtures and respond a signal of their own willingness to back off the current trend of decoupling. While it remains to be seen whether the Biden administration’s actions will actually fulfill Ambassador Burns’ sentiments, China is likely interested in returning to pre-COVID business as usual since the global economic shocks and geopolitical escalations. American and Western demand from the Chinese export market may be too valuable to lose.
  • The escalation of the security situation in Taiwan remains a red line for China and a massive stumbling block to restoring U.S.-China relations. As it has unfolded in Ukraine, the U.S. is not likely to ratchet down the rhetoric or military support for Taiwan as it would face a blow to its credibility. If Washington does not make concessions on Taiwan-related issues, Beijing will have to keep an eye on the doves challenging the incumbent, pro-independence status quo for a shot at improving cross-strait relations.


“Our view is we need better channels between the two governments and deeper channels, and we are ready to talk. And it’s particularly important to do that, of course, when you’ve got big problems and when you have major disagreements in the relationship. We’ve never been shy of talking, and we hope the Chinese will meet us halfway on this. What we really need is a more broad-based engagement at the Cabinet level, and the United States is ready for that. So we hope that the government here will be ready as well. And it’s hard for me to predict at this point when this kind of re-engagement will reoccur, but we have never supported an icing of this relationship.” – Nicholas Burns, U.S. Ambassador to China

Good Reads:

U.S. ambassador to China says the U.S. is ready for high-level talks with Chinese (NBC News)

The communication breakdown between U.S. and China raises the risk of an unintended crisis (NBC News)