Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with Axios AM/PM. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on the day's biggest business stories

Subscribe to Axios Closer for insights into the day’s business news and trends and why they matter

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Stay on top of the latest market trends

Subscribe to Axios Markets for the latest market trends and economic insights. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sports news worthy of your time

Binge on the stats and stories that drive the sports world with Axios Sports. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tech news worthy of your time

Get our smart take on technology from the Valley and D.C. with Axios Login. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Get the inside stories

Get an insider's guide to the new White House with Axios Sneak Peek. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Axios on your phone

Get breaking news and scoops on the go with the Axios app.

Download for free.

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Denver news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Des Moines news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Twin Cities news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Tampa Bay news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa Bay

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Charlotte news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sign up for Axios NW Arkansas

Stay up-to-date on the most important and interesting stories affecting NW Arkansas, authored by local reporters

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Nicholas Burns. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Nicholas Burns, a career diplomat, is in the final stages of vetting to serve as President Biden’s ambassador to China, people familiar with the matter tell Axios.

Why it matters: Across the administration, there's a consensus the U.S. relationship with China will be the most critical — and consequential — of Biden's presidency. From trade to Taiwan, the stakes are high. Burns could be among the first batch of diplomatic nominees announced in the coming weeks.

  • Biden set the table for those nominations Thursday, drawing from the State Department Foreign Service as he named nine career diplomats for postings from Somalia to Senegal.
  • The Foreign Service traditionally supplies 70% of the roughly 190 nominees, and naming career appointees first should reduce internal complaints about political appointments.
  • The remaining spots, typically in coveted Western European capitals and crucial Asian countries, are usually reserved for well-heeled donors, former politicians or policy experts.

Between the lines: Burns is a Harvard University professor and former State Department spokesman who capped his Foreign Service career by serving as undersecretary of state for political affairs for President George W. Bush.

  • By sending him to Beijing, Biden would be indicating a preference for a seasoned diplomat instead of a high-wattage politician.
  • The last four U.S. ambassadors to China have all had experience in retail politics, winning elections statewide, either as a governor or senator.
  • Burn's potential nomination was reported by Bloomberg in February. A final decision by the president has not been made.

The intrigue: Biden officials also have considered former U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky for the post.

  • While not a politician, Barshefsky won Senate confirmation, served in President Clinton’s Cabinet and negotiated with the Chinese on their entry into the World Trade Organization.

Go deeper: Biden officials have been urged to nominate a former elected official for Beijing, under the theory the Chinese prefer to deal with a big name who can pick up the phone, cut through the bureaucracy and speak to the president directly.

  • “He needs to appoint a ‘wow-wow’ person to show the world the importance of this relationship,” said former Sen. Max Baucus, the Montana Democrat who served as Obama’s second China ambassador.
  • “It’s also critical that the person is empowered to negotiate on the president’s behalf,” he said. “The ambassadors should not just be a person to deliver messages.”

The bottom line: With Biden’s National Security Council and State Department intensely focused on China, the next ambassador’s job could be more about implementing policy instead of creating it.

  • In addition to working with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan, Biden’s China envoy will also have to coordinate with former Secretary of State John Kerry on climate change.
  • The ambassador also will have to contend with Kurt Campbell, a brash former assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs who is now serving in a newly created “Asia czar” role on the National Security Council.

Go deeper

Apr 15, 2021 - World

Globetrotting climate envoy Kerry makes Biden team’s first visit to China

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

John Kerry became the first senior Biden administration official to touch down in China this week. He's also been the first to sit down with a string of world leaders.

Why it matters: Kerry may no longer be secretary of state, but you'd be forgiven for thinking otherwise after a glance at his calendar. The unusual role could make Kerry a foreign policy force multiplier for President Biden, or potentially a source of mixed messages.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Apr 14, 2021 - World

John Kerry and China's long road ahead on climate

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Brian Snyder/AFP via Getty Images

Yes, special climate envoy John Kerry's really in China and no, don't look for a huge breakthrough between the world's two largest carbon-emitting nations.

Driving the news: The State Department yesterday announced Kerry's visit this week, confirming plans that began emerging Saturday.

Updated Apr 15, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Biden names Erika Moritsugu as senior AAPI liaison

Erika Moritsugu. Photo courtesy: National Partnership for Women & Families

President Biden has named Erika Moritsugu as deputy assistant to the president and Asian American and Pacific Islander senior liaison, the White House announced Wednesday.

Driving the news: The decision follows weeks of pressure from AAPI leaders to include more Asian American representation at the Cabinet level and in senior administration roles.