Ukraine making China rethink when, not whether, to invade Taiwan: CIA chief

Pro-Russian troops riding infantry fighting vehicles in Lysychansk, Ukraine, on July 4, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - China appears determined on using force in Taiwan, with Russia's experience in Ukraine affecting Beijing's calculations on when and how – not whether – to invade, the head of the CIA said Wednesday (July 20).

Appearing at the Aspen Security Forum, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director Bill Burns said that China likely saw in Ukraine that "you don’t achieve quick, decisive victories with underwhelming force."

He played down speculation that Chinese President Xi Jinping could move on Taiwan after a key Communist Party meeting later this year but said the risks "become higher, it seems to us, the further into this decade that you get."

"I wouldn’t underestimate President Xi’s determination to assert China’s control" over Taiwan, he said. 

Mr Burns said that China was "unsettled" when looking at Russia's five-month-old war in Ukraine, which he characterised as a "strategic failure" for President Vladimir Putin as he had hoped to topple the Kyiv government within a week.

"Our sense is that it probably affects less the question of whether the Chinese leadership might choose some years down the road to use force to control Taiwan, but how and when they would do it," Mr Burns said.

"I suspect the lesson that the Chinese leadership and military are drawing is that you've got to amass overwhelming force if you're going to contemplate that in the future," he said.

China also has likely learned that it has to "control the information space" and "do everything you can to shore up your economy against the potential for sanctions," he said in a live interview with NBC News correspondent Andrea Mitchell.

Mr Burns, in line with previous US assessments, said that the United States does not believe that Beijing is offering military support to Russia despite rhetorical backing.

He said China has stepped up purchases of Russian energy but appears careful about not incurring Western sanctions.

China regards Taiwan regards as a renegade province to be reunified, by force if necessary.

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