TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — During a congressional intelligence committee meeting on Tuesday (March 8), the head of the CIA said that China is "unsettled" by Russia's struggles in Ukraine, but to not underestimate Chinese Chairman Xi Jinping's (習近平) "determination with regard to Taiwan."
At the annual House of Representatives Intelligence Committee hearing on worldwide threats, CIA Director William Burns was asked to comment on whether Russia and China's relationship remains strong after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Burns said that the relationship between the two countries has continued to strengthen since 2019, but stressed that he thinks that Xi and the Chinese leadership are "a little bit unsettled by what they're seeing in Ukraine. They did not anticipate the significant difficulties the Russians were going to run into."
On the heels of a declaration made between Xi and Putin at the start of the Winter Olympics in Beijing that “friendship between the two states has no limits," Burns said, that the Chinese leadership is "unsettled by the reputational damage that can come by their close association with President Putin."
He noted that Russia is experiencing economic consequences as China is seeing the lowest annual growth rates in more than three decades, leading them to feel unsettled about the impact on the global economy. Burns said that the Chinese are also unsettled by the way in which Putin has "driven Europeans and Americans much closer together," unraveling Beijing's efforts to drive wedges between the U.S. and the E.U.
Burns was then asked that given the high economic cost Russia has suffered after its invasion of Ukraine, whether this would provide any opening for a more "productive conversation" between the U.S. and China over Taiwan. Burns said he did not see this having such an effect and instead assessed that "I would not underestimate President Xi and the Chinese leadership's determination with regard to Taiwan."
He said that Chinese leaders have been "surprised and unsettled to some extent by what they have seen in Ukraine over the last 12 days. Everything from the strength of the Western reaction, to the way in which the Ukrainians have fiercely resisted, to the relatively poor performance of the Russian military."
When pressed further whether this would be to Taiwan's benefit, Burns said, "No, I think there is an impact on the Chinese calculus with regard to Taiwan and which we obviously are going to continue to pay careful attention to." However, he did not explain in detail what that impact may be.