Chinese President Xi Jinping is determined to retake the island of Taiwan despite Moscow’s military struggles to seize Ukraine, according to CIA Director Bill Burns.
Burns also said that the Russian invasion of Ukraine surprised Xi and influenced his calculation for any future military operations against the island state.
“I don’t think for a minute that it has eroded Xi’s resolve over time to gain control of Taiwan,” Burns told Britain’s Financial Times newspaper on Saturday.
However, Russian military deficiencies in Ukraine are “affecting [Chinese leaders’] calculation” on the use of military force.
Burns also said the Chinese Communist Party leader was “disturbed” by global opposition to the Russian war and the fact that the conflict has led to greater unity between the United States and Europe.
The leader of the Chinese Communist Party has sought to divide the United States from Europe through economic, diplomatic and informational means as part of a strategy to make China the preeminent world power.
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“It shocks us. . . that Xi Jinping is a little uneasy about the reputational damage China may suffer from being associated with the brutality of Russia’s aggression against the Ukrainians [and] certainly disturbed by the economic uncertainty that the war has produced,” said Mr. Burns.
Mr. Xi’s main concern is “predictability” in global affairs, something that the Ukraine war has disrupted.
On US-European ties, Burns said China is upset that Russian President Vladimir Putin “is bringing Europeans and Americans closer together.”
The Chinese are also “carefully analyzing the lessons they should draw” for a future operation against Taiwan.
Mr. Xi has announced that retaking Taiwan is a central goal of his policies known as national “rejuvenation.”
China has not ruled out the use of military force against Taiwan. The island was separated from the mainland in 1949 during a civil war in which Chinese Nationalist forces withdrew to the island located about 100 miles off China’s southeast coast.
The CIA director described China as America’s most significant geopolitical challenge.
On Russia, Burns said the Putin regime shows that powers in decline can be just as disruptive as powers on the rise like China.
Burns said the Russian leader is pressing ahead with plans to take over Ukraine as the conflict shifts from taking the capital of kyiv to control of the eastern Donbas region.
That strategy is as “risky” or even more so than the offensive against kyiv, he added.
“[Putin] you’re in a frame of mind where you don’t think you can afford to lose; so the stakes are high at this stage,” Mr. Burns said. “I think he is convinced at this point that he will double down. . . It will allow you to progress.”
So far, the CIA sees “no practical evidence” that Russian forces are planning to use tactical nuclear weapons, although the possibility exists, he said.