Chinese President Xi Jinping is determined to retake the island of Taiwan despite Moscow’s military struggles to take over Ukraine, according to CIA Director Bill Burns.
Mr. Burns also said the Russian invasion of Ukraine had surprised Mr. Xi and influenced his calculus toward any future military operation against the island state.
“I don’t for a minute think that it’s eroded Xi’s determination over time to gain control over Taiwan,” Mr. Burns told the British newspaper Financial Times on Saturday.
However, Russian military shortcomings in Ukraine are “affecting [Chinese leaders’] calculation” regarding the use of military force.
Mr. Burns also said the Chinese Communist Party leader was “unsettled” by global opposition to the Russian war and by the fact that the conflict has led to greater unity between the United States and Europe.
The Chinese Communist Party chief has sought to divide the United States from Europe through economic, diplomatic and informational means as part of a strategy of making China the preeminent world power.
“It strikes us . . . that Xi Jinping is a little bit unsettled by the reputational damage that can come to China by the association with the brutishness of Russia’s aggression against Ukrainians [and] unsettled certainly by the economic uncertainty that’s been produced by the war,” Mr. Burns said.
Mr. Xi’s main preoccupation is with “predictability,” in global affairs, something the Ukraine war has disrupted.
On U.S.-European ties, Mr. Burns said China is upset by the fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin “is driving Europeans and Americans closer together.”
The Chinese also are looking “carefully at what 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 broke from the mainland in 1949 during a civil war that saw Nationalist Chinese forces retreat to the island located about 100 miles off the southeastern Chinese coast.
The CIA director described China as the United States’ most significant geopolitical challenge.
On Russia, Mr. Burns said Mr. Putin’s regime shows that declining powers can be as disruptive as rising ones like China.
Mr. 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 controlling the eastern Donbas region.
That strategy is as “risky” or even more so than the drive against Kyiv, he added.
“[Putin] is in a frame of mind in which he doesn’t believe he can afford to lose; so the stakes are quite high in this phase,” Mr. Burns said. “I think he’s convinced right now that doubling down . . . will enable him to make progress.”
So far the CIA does not see “practical evidence” Russian forces are planning to use tactical nuclear arms although the possibility exists, he said.