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Nicholas Burns. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Senate voted 75-18 on Thursday to confirm Nicholas Burns, a widely respected former career diplomat, as U.S. ambassador to China.

Why it matters: Burns — the first Senate-confirmed ambassador in Beijing in more than 14 months — will inherit the most complex and high-stakes bilateral relationship in the world.

How we got here: Burns' nomination in August drew bipartisan praise and support, but his confirmation was held up last month by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

  • Rubio agreed to release the hold when the Senate voted unanimously on Thursday to ban imports from the Chinese region of Xinjiang over forced labor concerns.
  • Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) argued that the U.S. needs Burns at his post in order to effectively implement the bill, which is designed to punish the Chinese government for its genocide of Uyghur Muslims.

The big picture: The Biden administration has defined its approach to China as "competitive when it should be, collaborative when it can be, and adversarial when it must be."

  • President Biden has directly engaged with Chinese President Xi Jinping in order to set "guardrails" on the relationship, seeking to prevent "stiff competition" from spiraling into conflict.
  • Burns, a Harvard professor and former U.S. ambassador to NATO, said in his confirmation hearing that China poses "the greatest threat to the security of our country and the democratic world" in the 21st century.
  • But he stressed that China is "not all-powerful" and that the U.S. retains "substantial" advantages over the rising superpower — most notably its alliances.

What to watch: The Senate has a backlog of dozens of ambassador and State Department nominees due to blockades by Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.).

  • Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is pushing to confirm more than 20 of those nominees in the next few days, taking up valuable floor time and preventing senators from leaving for the holiday recess.

Go deeper: Highlights from Burns' confirmation hearing

Go deeper

Jan 14, 2022 - World

U.S. braces for Russian escalation as talks hit “dead end”

OSCE Chairman-in-Office Zbigniew Rau said Thursday "the risk of war in the OSCE area is now greater than ever." Photo: Askin Kiyagan/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The crisis over Russia's threatening military buildup on the border with Ukraine entered a dangerous and unpredictable new phase in both Vienna and Washington on Thursday.

Driving the news: Russian diplomats said this week's round of security talks from Geneva and Brussels to Vienna have resulted in a "dead end," and it's time for them to return to Moscow to brief President Vladimir Putin on the "very disappointing" state of affairs before deciding the path forward.

Scramble over gas for EU as Russia threatens Ukraine

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Cracks in the NATO alliance regarding sanctions for Russia should President Vladimir Putin order troops into Ukraine are in large part based on energy supply concerns.

Why it matters: Russia holds tremendous leverage over some European countries because it provides roughly 40% of Europe's natural gas supply. In Germany, this figure is greater than 50%.

Why the Fed might want to jolt the markets

Fed chair Jerome Powell at a hearing earlier this month. Photo: Brendan Smialowski-Pool/Getty Images

So far, financial markets are cooperating nicely with the Federal Reserve's efforts to restrain inflation. They're doing the Fed's work for it by creating tighter financial conditions, in a distinctly non-panicky way.

  • But as the central bank's policymakers meet this week, an underlying question they face is whether the adjustment is happening too slowly.