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Top Biden China adviser steps down from role

Laura Rosenberger, the National Security Council’s director for China and Taiwan (Wilson Center/Released)
February 20, 2023

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

A key China policy adviser to U.S. President Joe Biden will step down next month, according to National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan. The staffing change comes in the middle of a feud between Washington and Beijing over the alleged use of spy balloons.

Laura Rosenberger, the National Security Council’s senior director for China and Taiwan, will be replaced by Sarah Beran, who is currently the deputy executive secretary at the State Department, according to an administration official who spoke on condition of background. 

The official said Rosenberger’s “exit plans have long been in the works” and details about her next role would be “forthcoming.”

Sullivan, the national security adviser, said in a statement to Radio Free Asia that Rosenberger had played a key role in the Biden administration’s efforts to put the United States in a position to “outcompete China and advance a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

“Since the first day of the administration, Laura’s skilled diplomacy and tenacity have been essential to this administration priority, and we are immensely grateful for her service,” Sullivan said.

Rosenberger previously served as Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s chief of staff when he was deputy secretary of state under President Barack Obama from 2015 to 2017, as well as when he was Obama’s deputy national security adviser before that.

Beran, Rosenberger’s replacement, previously served as the director of the office of Chinese and Mongolian affairs at the State Department’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, according to her State Department biography, and speaks Mandarin.

The change of staffing comes at a particularly fractious moment in Sino-American relations, with Blinken earlier this month postponing a trip to Beijing at the last minute after an alleged Chinese spy balloon was found flying over the continental United States.

The U.S. military shot down the balloon off the South Carolina coast on Feb. 4, leading to protests from Beijing, which insists the balloon was a civilian meteorological vessel blown off course, about an act of aggression that violated the spirit of international law. Three additional objects have also been shot down, though U.S. officials have stopped short of blaming Beijing for sending them. 

China’s foreign ministry, though, has since accused the United States of flying 10 spy balloons over its own territory over the last year, calling the intrusions “common,” an accusation that has been denied by senior Biden administration officials, including Blinken.

In turn, the Biden administration has accused Beijing of operating a worldwide surveillance program using high-altitude balloons harder for radar systems, programmed to patrol for missiles and other more regular military intrusions, to detect using everyday methods.

U.S. officials have not said what it would take to get relations with China back to the point where Blinken’s postponed trip to Beijing could go ahead. State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters on Tuesday only that China has to show it is “serious about being a responsible country” that wants better relations.

“I’m not going to spell out publicly any specific preconditions for what it might take to get that meeting back on track,” Price said. “We’re going to continue to assess, we’re going to continue to listen to what the [Chinese government] says privately, what they say publicly, and make our own determination about when the time is right.”