CIA Director Burns Says ‘Chinese Calculus’ on Taiwan Altered But Warns Not to ‘Underestimate’ Xi

© REUTERS / JASON LEEChinese President Xi Jinping attends a welcoming ceremony for Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos outside the Great Hall of the People, in Beijing, China May 14, 2019
Chinese President Xi Jinping attends a welcoming ceremony for Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos outside the Great Hall of the People, in Beijing, China May 14, 2019 - Sputnik International, 1920, 08.03.2022
Several US analysts and commentators, including former US President Donald Trump, have claimed that China could potentially invade Taiwan while Russia’s special operation in Ukraine is still ongoing. However, so far there’s been no military buildup or indication that preparations are being made for an attack.
Speaking before the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, CIA Director William Burns warned that Beijing was drawing lessons from Russia’s special operation in Ukraine and would be applying them to its plans for Taiwan.
The CIA chief said he felt there was little room for a more “productive” conversation with China over Taiwan, an autonomous island that Beijing claims as a part of China.
"I would just say analytically, I would not underestimate President Xi and the Chinese leadership's determination with regard to Taiwan," Burns told federal lawmakers at a hearing on worldwide threats.
"I do think that they have been surprised and unsettled to some extent by what they've seen in Ukraine over the last 12 days, everything from the strength of the Western reaction to the way in which Ukrainians have fiercely resisted," Burns noted.
He added that he believed there had been "an impact on the Chinese calculus with regard to Taiwan, and which we obviously are going to continue to pay careful attention to.”
US Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines also told the hearing that "It does seem as if they [China] are potentially paying a price for not criticizing Russia, and that may have an impact on how this trajectory moves forward.”
However, Defense Intelligence Agency Director Scott Berrier cautioned that Taiwan and Ukraine are "two different things completely.”
The government in Taipei calls itself the Republic of China, the last remaining outpost of the government that ruled all of China between 1912 and 1949, when the socialist revolution established the People’s Republic of China on the mainland. Both governments claim to be the sole legitimate ruler of a single united China, and Beijing regards US relations with Taiwan as meddling in Chinese internal affairs.
Beijing has remained committed to reunification with Taiwan, but made no threats of attack; however, it has warned that US support for the island’s pro-independence factions could drive them toward declaring formal independence, which would mean war. Beijing has laid out a “one country, two systems” plan for Taiwan if it were to return to Chinese rule, akin to the relationship with Hong Kong after that island was returned to China after 150 years of British colonial rule.
Regular Chinese military drills and transits near Taiwan are often reported as challenges or threats to Taiwanese sovereignty, especially in the Western press, even when they involve a handful of aircraft flying hundreds of miles from the island. However, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has also dramatically expanded its amphibious capabilities in recent years, which Western analysts say poses a threat to Taiwan.
Since Russia launched its special operation aimed at neutralizing and de-Nazifying Ukraine on February 24, China watchers have fretted about Beijing’s potential connection to the operation, including that it could launch its own parallel effort in Taiwan.
“I haven’t seen anything so far, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t talked about it internally and doesn’t mean that they won’t try something,” US Air Force Gen. Kenneth Wilsbach, the head of US Pacific Air Forces, told the Air Force Association last week. He said his surveillance assets were watching Chinese President Xi Jinping “like a hawk.”
Trump has also claimed that “China is gonna be next” after Russia, using Russia’s operation as a bludgeon against his political rival, US President Joe Biden, by claiming that Russian President Vladimir “Putin would have never done it, and Xi would have never done it” if he had won the November 2020 election.
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