Spy chief's assessment comes as Pentagon warns against Nancy Pelosi's reported trip to Taiwan in August
China’s invasion of Taiwan is now a question of when and how, not if, the CIA’s director warned on Thursday.
William Burns said Beijing appears determined to forcefully seize the island and that it had learned from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that "you don’t achieve quick, decisive victories with underwhelming force”.
While China was "unsettled" over how long the war was going on for, he added, the conflict had not changed Beijing’s plans to take Taiwan, a democratic-governed island it claims as its own territory.
"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," Mr Burns said in a speech at the Aspen Security Forum.
The risks of an invasion "become higher, it seems to us, the further into this decade that you get”, he added.
On Thursday, Britain’s spy chief said that China was now the UK’s top intelligence priority, reflecting the "seriousness" of the threat.
"We now devote more effort to China than to any other single subject," said Richard Moore at the same forum in Aspen.
He said helping Ukraine come out on top in the war with Russia was important "because Xi is watching this like a hawk".
"It is really important that President Xi, as he calculates what he may or may not do on Taiwan, looks at what can go wrong with a misjudged invasion," he added.
The comments came as Joe Biden, the US president, warned Nancy Pelosi, the House Speaker, against visiting Taiwan next month.
“I think that the military thinks it’s not a good idea right now," Mr Biden told reporters at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland in response to a question about the reported trip. “But I don’t know what the status of it is.”
It was reported on Tuesday that Ms Pelosi planned to go ahead with a trip to Taipei that had been postponed in April after she tested positive for Covid-19. Her office declined to comment, citing security protocols.
If she went, she would be the first serving House speaker to visit since 1997 and it would mark a significant diplomatic coup for Taiwan.
China, which in recent years has stepped up its efforts to globally isolate Taiwan, has strongly objected and warned of "resolute and forceful measures" if the visit goes ahead.
It would “severely undermine China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, gravely impact the foundation of China-US relations and send a seriously wrong signal to Taiwan independence forces,” Zhao Lijiang, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, said on Wednesday.
Mr Biden is reportedly planning to speak to Mr Xi in 10 days’ time when the issue is likely be discussed.
But Mr Biden’s latest walk-back risks making his administration look weak, some analysts have said.
“WH [White House] stops it once and Beijing sees blood in the water. Pelosi has to go now,” tweeted Eric Sayers, a Pacific expert at the American Enterprise institute.
Others suggested a more nuanced approach.
Bonnie Glaser, director of the Asia Programme at the German Marshall Fund, said if Ms Pelosi called off her plans it would have “to be done in a way that we don’t look like we are caving in to Chinese demands”.
But she added that “it is true that the US-China relationship is in a precarious and possibly dangerous place”, pointing to  friction in bilateral ties and the uncertainty created by domestic politics in China as the ruling Communist Party gears up for a major national congress.
“I think that the United States should articulate a clear and consistent policy towards Taiwan and cross-strait issues,” Ms Glaser said. “We have had a significant amount of confusion in US policy that has led China to question what our intentions are.”
On Mr Biden’s comment that the military considered the timing of the Pelosi trip suboptimal, she pointed to reports this week that General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, ordered a review of the growing interactions with the Chinese military in the South China Sea.
“That suggests the US military sees something unusual in how the Chinese are operating and how they are responding to US operations,” Ms Glaser said.
“Some of the Chinese reactions to US FONOPs [freedom of navigation operations] in the South China Sea have been unusually aggressive.”
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