Washington: The US intelligence community assesses that China doesn’t want a military conflict over Taiwan even as it’s determined to bring the independently governed island under its control, officials told a House of Representatives hearing Thursday.
“It’s not our assessment that China wants to go to war,” Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told the House Intelligence Committee as part of an annual briefing on worldwide threats faced by the US.
Taiwanese soldiers take part in military exercises in January simulating a possible intrusion by Beijing.Credit:AP
Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns testified at the same hearing that President Xi Jinping has been “sobered” by US and allied support for Ukraine in response to Russia’s invasion a year ago.
“That’s something that President Xi has to weigh as he comes out of Zero Covid, tries to restore Chinese economic growth, tries to engage with the rest of the global economy,” Burns said.
At the same time, Burns said he would “never underestimate the ambitions of the current Chinese leadership in that regard or their determination” to achieve reunification with Taiwan.
Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines.Credit:AP
As in similar hearing before the Senate on Wednesday, Thursday’s hearing highlighted just how grave the US considers the threat posed by China. Xi’s government has “shrunk the gap” when it comes to technological competition with the US, National Security Agency Director Paul Nakasone told lawmakers.
At the same time, the testimony from Burns and Haines offered a counterpoint to lawmakers — and some military officials — that China is primed to invade the island, possibly as early as 2027.
Asked whether the US should drop its longstanding position of “strategic ambiguity” on Taiwan, Haines cited President Joe Biden’s repeated statements that the US would defend against a Chinese attack.
Biden’s aides have repeatedly said his comments don’t reflect a change in the US position, but “I think it is clear to the Chinese what our position is, based on the president’s comments,” Haines told lawmakers.
If war does break out, Haines warned that it would have “enormous economic implications,” especially if Taiwan’s semiconductor production is disrupted.
“The chips that come out of Taiwan are present in virtually every category of electronic devices around the world,” she said.
The Biden administration is proposing to spend billions to woo Pacific island nations, to keep three of those countries in the US orbit.
Biden’s proposed federal budget released on Thursday includes more than US$7.1 billion ($10.7 billion) in funding for the Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau. The money is included in the $US63.1 billion request for the State Department and the US Agency for International Development.
It’s unclear if Congress would approve such aid. The overall budget proposal faces certain opposition in the Republican-led House and some GOP lawmakers are pushing for severe foreign aid cuts as they look to slash federal spending.
But members of Congress have shown rare bipartisan unity on countering China, offering the prospect that the Pacific Island aid could be seen more favorably.
The money, to be paid out over 20 years, would extend agreements with the three states under which the US provides them with essential services and economic support in exchange for military basing rights and other preferential treatment.
The so-called “Compacts of Free Association” deals were due to expire later this year and next, and US officials say China has been trying to exploit extension negotiations for its own advantage.
The White House said the payments are part of its strategy to “out-compete China” and strengthen America’s alliances and partnerships in the Indo-Pacific. But apart from direct military programs they are the largest single budget line for the region in the spending plan.
The Defence Department’s portion of the budget request – totaling $US842 billion — prioritises ramping up the US military presence in the Indo-Pacific.
“China is the United States’ only competitor with both the intent to reshape the international order and, increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to do it,” the White House said.
“During these unprecedented and extraordinary times, the budget requests both discretionary and mandatory resources to out-compete China and advance American prosperity globally,” it said.
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