Taiwan: CIA chief warns Beijing looks determined to use force to take the island
- Agency director William Burns says it’s a matter of when and how – not whether – mainland China will attack the island
- Russia’s war in Ukraine has taught Beijing it needs to ‘amass overwhelming force’ to attempt a similar move, he says
“I wouldn’t underestimate President Xi’s determination to assert China’s control” over the self-ruling island, he said.
“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,” Burns said.
Beijing has also 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.
Burns, in line with previous US assessments, said that the US did not believe that Beijing was offering military support to Russia despite rhetorical backing.
He said Beijing had stepped up purchases of Russian energy but appeared careful about not incurring Western sanctions.
The mainland’s defeated nationalists fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing China’s civil war. The island has since developed into a vibrant democracy and leading technological power, but Beijing claims it as its territory.
Speaking before Burns at the forum in the Rocky Mountains, Beijing’s ambassador to the US, Qin Gang, said that the mainland still preferred “peaceful reunification”.
“No conflict and no war is the biggest consensus between China and the United States,” Qin said.
But the US is “hollowing out and blurring” its stated policy of only recognising Beijing, he said.
Under a law passed by Congress when Washington switched recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979, the US is required to provide weapons to Taiwan for its self-defence.
US President Joe Biden said in May that the US was ready to use force to defend Taiwan from a mainland Chinese attack, appearing to shed the long-held US ambiguity on whether it would engage militarily, although the White House quickly walked his comments back.
Biden told reporters on Wednesday that he expected to speak to Xi “within the next 10 days”.
A number of US delegations have visited Taiwan, mostly of former officials, but Beijing recently warned against a reported trip plan by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is third in line to the presidency.