President Joe Biden is considering nominating veteran U.S. diplomat Nicholas Burns as U.S. ambassador to China, the White House said on Friday as the administration scouts for an envoy to play a more central role in the increasingly fractious relations between the two global rivals.

Burns is a retired career foreign service officer who served under secretary of state between 2005 and 2008. If picked, his appointment will be a rare deviation from the previous appointments into the office, becoming the first time in decades that a seasoned diplomat and not a politician would occupy the position.

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Burns would be faced with a tedious job at a time when the two countries’ ties are at their lowest point. The post has been left vacant since October, after former President Donald Trump’s envoy to China, Terry Branstad, stepped down.

The United States and China, the world’s biggest economies right now, are at loggerheads over a myriad of issues across the board, including trade, technology, the coronavirus, Taiwan, and Chinese military activities in the disputed South China Sea, with each accusing the other of deliberately provocative behaviour.

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Burns will also have to face China on the issue of the recent the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and the chaotic U.S. evacuation from Kabul. China has shown interest in backing up the Taliban, a situation which the US would try to counter Beijing for.

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