China is closely studying Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and is likely adjusting its long-term plans for gaining control of Taiwan based on the lessons from the war, CIA director Bill Burns said Saturday.
“Clearly the Chinese leadership is trying to look carefully at what lessons they should draw from Ukraine about their own ambitions and Taiwan,” Burns told a Financial Times conference.
Burns said he thinks Beijing has been “surprised” by the poor performance of Russian military forces as well as the tough resistance coming from the entire Ukrainian society.
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“I think they’ve been struck by the way in which particularly the transatlantic alliance has come together to impose economic costs on Russia as a result of that aggression,” he continued.
Beijing has been “unsettled by the fact that what [Russian President Vladimir] Putin has done is to drive Europeans and Americans closer together,” Burns said.
“What conclusions get drawn from all that remains a question mark,” he said.
“I think the Chinese leadership is looking very carefully at all this, at the costs and consequences of any effort to use force to gain control over Taiwan.”
Taiwan lives under the constant threat of invasion by Beijing, which sees the self-ruled democratic island as part of its territory to be retaken one day, by force if necessary.
China has ramped up pressure on Taiwan since Tsai Ing-wen was elected president in 2016, as she considers the island a sovereign nation and not part of Chinese territory.
Burns also said that Putin believes that he cannot afford to lose in Ukraine and is determined to push ahead with the war.
“I think he has a frame of mind in which he doesn’t believe he can afford to lose,” the US spy chief said.
Even as the Russians face strong resistance, “I think he’s convinced right now that doubling down still will enable him to make progress,” Burns said of the Russian leader.