September 26, 2023

William Burns is sworn in to testify ahead of a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on his appointment as director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) on Capitol Hill, Washington on February 24, 2021.

Tom Brenner | Reuters

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden’s candidate to head the CIA told lawmakers on Wednesday that if approved, he would strengthen America’s national security approach to combating China.

“Outperforming China will be the key to our national security in the coming days,” said Will Burns in his opening address to the Senate Intelligence Committee. “That requires a long-term, clear, bipartisan strategy underpinned by domestic renewal and solid intelligence,” added the former professional diplomat.

Burns, 64, who has worked under both Republican and Democratic presidents, described Xi Jinping’s China as “a formidable, authoritarian opponent.”

He added that China is “methodically strengthening its ability to steal intellectual property, repress its own people, harass its neighbors, expand its global reach and build influence in American society.”

Burns’ comments come as the Biden administration faces cool relations with China.

In his first phone call with Chinese President Xi, Biden expressed “fundamental concerns” about Beijing’s “enforced and unfair economic practices, the crackdown on Hong Kong, human rights abuses in Xinjiang and increasingly enforceable measures in the region, including Taiwan.”

Over the past four years, the Trump administration blamed China for a variety of abuses, including intellectual property theft, unfair trade practices and, most recently, the coronavirus pandemic.

Biden previously said his strategy against China would be different from his predecessor’s one-sided approach, pledging to work closely with allies to push back on Beijing.

“We will face China’s economic abuse,” said Biden in a speech at the State Department, describing the nation as America’s “most serious competitor.”

“But we are also ready to work with Beijing if it is in America’s interest. We will compete from a position of strength by improving at home and working with our allies and partners.”

Burns, who was introduced to the Senate Committee by former Secretary of State James Baker and former CIA Director and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, was previously U.S. Ambassador to Jordan and Russia.

Its endorsement is expected to come smoothly with strong bipartisan support, similar to the majority of Biden’s national security team.

Earlier this month, the Senate confirmed Alejandro Mayorkas as head of the country’s Department of Homeland Security. He was the first Latino to take on this role. The Senate voted 56 to 43.

Last month, the Senate confirmed Avril Haines as director of the National Intelligence Service by 84-10, making her the first official member of Biden’s cabinet. Haines is also the first woman to head the country’s 18 intelligence agencies.

The Senate voted 93-2 to confirm Lloyd Austin as the next Pentagon chief. This made him the nation’s first secretary on black defense. The Senate confirmed Biden’s top diplomat Antony Blinken with 78-22 votes, making him the nation’s next foreign minister.