U.S. intelligence shows that China's President Xi Jinping has instructed his country's military to “be ready by 2027" to invade Taiwan though he may be currently harboring doubts about his ability to do so given Russia's experience in its war with Ukraine, CIA Director William Burns said.
Burns, in a television interview that aired Sunday, stressed that the United States must take “very seriously” Xi's desire to ultimately control Taiwan even if military conflict is not inevitable.
“We do know, as has been made public, that President Xi has instructed the PLA, the Chinese military leadership, to be ready by 2027 to invade Taiwan, but that doesn’t mean that he’s decided to invade in 2027 or any other year as well,” Burns told CBS' “Face the Nation.”
“I think our judgment at least is that President Xi and his military leadership have doubts today about whether they could accomplish that invasion,” he said.
Taiwan and China split in 1949 after a civil war that ended with the Communist Party in control of the mainland. The self-governing island acts like a sovereign nation yet is not recognized by the United Nations or any major country. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter formally recognized the government in Beijing and cut nation-to-nation ties with Taiwan. In response, Congress passed the Taiwan Relations Act, creating a benchmark for a continuing relationship.
Taiwan has received numerous displays of official American support for the island democracy in the face of growing shows of force by Beijing, which claims Taiwan as part of its territory. President Joe Biden has said that American forces would defend Taiwan if China tried to invade. The White House says U.S. policy has not changed in making clear that Washington wants to see Taiwan’s status resolved peacefully. It is silent as to whether U.S. forces might be sent in response to a Chinese attack.
In Sunday's interview, Burns said the support from the U.S. and European allies for Ukraine following Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion of that country may be acting as a potential deterrent to Chinese officials for now but said the risks of a possible attack on Taiwan will only grow stronger.
“I think, as they’ve looked at Putin’s experience in Ukraine, that’s probably reinforced some of those doubts,” Burns said. "So, all I would say is that I think the risks of, you know, a potential use of force probably grow the further into this decade you get and beyond it, into the following decade as well.
“So that’s something obviously, that we watch very, very carefully,” he said.