Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership is unsettled by the strength of the United States and allied response to Russia’s war on Ukraine, according to CIA Director William Burns. That will influence the CCP’s decision-making on a potential invasion of Taiwan.
“I do think that they’ve been surprised and unsettled to some extent by what they’ve seen in Ukraine over the last 12 days,” Burns said during the House intelligence committee’s annual hearing on threat assessment, held March 8.
Burns added that Western sanctions and the West’s condemnation of Russia had an “impact on Chinese calculus” concerning Taiwan but cautioned that the two scenarios were not the same.
Ultimately, however, he said that the situation did not present an opportunity for a more meaningful conversation between the United States and China about the future of Taiwan.
“I would not underestimate President Xi and the Chinese leadership’s determination with regard to Taiwan,” Burns said.
Burns's comments followed the release of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s annual report on Threat Assessment, which identified China as the primary threat to the nation in 2022. The report also highlighted the central role of Taiwan’s continued self-governance in Sino-American relations.
“The CCP will work to press Taiwan on unification, undercut U.S. influence, drive wedges between Washington and its partners, and foster some norms that favor its authoritarian system," the report said.
“Beijing will press Taiwan to move toward unification and will react to what it views as increased U.S.–Taiwan engagement. We expect that friction will grow as China continues to increase military activity around the island, and Taiwan’s leaders resist Beijing’s pressure for progress toward unification.”
Taiwan has been self-governed since 1949, but the CCP still considers the island a breakaway province from the mainland.
Burns added that the CCP did not properly anticipate the depth of the military difficulties now faced by Russia, and that it failed to comprehend how fully Western nations would cooperate in inflicting consequences on Russia.
CCP leadership, Burns said, had failed to appreciate that the “reputational damage” being heaped on Russia would likely harm China’s own image, due to the close relationship of the CCP and Putin’s regime.
Burns said that the CCP would remain taken aback in the short term as it comes to terms with how the Russian invasion of Ukraine “has driven Europeans and Americans much closer together.”
The question remained open as to whether Russia’s war on Ukraine, and the Western response to it, had averted a war in Taiwan.
Defense Intelligence Agency Director Scott Berrier said at the same hearing that Ukraine and Taiwan were “two different things completely.” He did add, however, that the CCP would be “watching very, very carefully,” as to how the War in Ukraine unfolds.
Regardless of the perception of the American intelligence community, the fate of Ukraine and its status as a symbol of democratic liberty in the face of authoritarian warmongering is something that political leadership in Taiwan has repeatedly pointed out in past weeks.
The island's Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said at a March 7 press conference, “Many Taiwanese people will say as I do now: I’m Ukrainian."