(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden’s pick to be ambassador to China drew sharp lines with Beijing over its “aggressive” actions in the Indo-Pacific but said “American strength” gives the U.S. key advantages in the relationship between the world’s two largest economies.
Nicholas Burns, a longtime diplomat who previously served as U.S. ambassador to NATO and Greece, said China has been the aggressor in its relationship with Taiwan, Vietnam, Japan and the Philippines. He also said he’s skeptical about Chinese intentions on issues like 5G technology.
But he emphasized his view that the U.S. has the upper hand.
“Beijing proclaims that the East is rising and the West is in decline,” Burns said. “I’m confident in our own country,” he added, citing the U.S. military, foreign service and educational system as advantages over China. “The People’s Republic of China is not an Olympian power.”
Burns singled out China’s frequent incursions of Taiwan’s air defense identification zone as particularly egregious, saying it’s clear that “they intend to take back Taiwan” and that the U.S. needs to redouble efforts to prevent that from happening.
“Our responsibility is to make Taiwan a tough nut to crack,” Burns said.
While Burns, 65, mentioned the importance of staying engaged with Beijing and finding common interests, his focus on areas of conflict won quick praise from Republicans and Democrats on the committee as the hearing got underway.
The job of ambassador to China “really demands a bipartisan approach,” Senator James Risch, the top Republican on the panel, said. “You will be on the front lines of this competition.”
Burns singled out America’s network of alliances as one of the biggest advantages the U.S. has when it comes to competing with China, which he said has few friends or allies to rely on.
In a rare aside for a Democrat in Washington, Burns even praised former President Donald Trump and his last secretary of state, Michael Pompeo, for “reinvigorating” the Quad alliance with India, Japan and Australia, saying it was an important bloc for America in the Indo-Pacific.
As a career foreign service officer, Burns served as under secretary of state for political affairs from 2005 to 2008. He was also U.S. ambassador to NATO from 2001 to 2005 and ambassador to Greece from 1997 to 2001. He currently serves as a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School.
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