CIA chief says it would be ‘very risky and unwise’ for China to send lethal aid to help Russian invasion of Ukraine

CIA Director William Burns confirms in a sitdown interview with CBS News that the US intelligence apparatus has reason to believe China is considering supplying "lethal provisions" to Russia to aid in its invasion of Ukraine, noting that such action would be "very risky and unwise" for Beijing.

Mr Burns spoke with CBS News' Margaret Brennan, who asked him if the US intelligence community believed Chinese President Xi Jinping was considering supplying lethal aid to Russia.

"Well, we're confident that the Chinese leadership is considering the provision of lethal equipment. We also don't see that a final decision has been made yet, and we don't see evidence of actual shipments of lethal equipment," he said.

Brennan noted that reports in the German press suggested the Chinese were considering supplying kamikaze drones, jet parts, and other weapons.

Mr Burns went on to say that Secretary of State Antony Blinken and President Joe Biden wanted to make clear that there would be consequences if Beijing did offer Russia weapons or armaments, saying it "would be a very risky and unwise bet" for China.

Brennan asked the CIA director if he thought China would be willing to risk "a tailspin in its relationship with the US" in order to keep "the West distracted and involved in a prolong conflict in Europe."

Mr Burns said it was possible, but also noted that he believes no other leader has paid more attention to Russia's faltering war efforts than Mr Xi.

"And I think in many ways, [Mr Xi] been unsettled and sobered by what he's seen. I think he was surprised by the very poor military performance of the Russians. I think surprised also by the degree of Western solidarity and support of Ukraine," Mr Burns said. "In other words, the willingness of not just the United States, but our European allies as well to absorb a certain amount of economic cost in the interest of inflicting greater economic damage on Russia over time."

However, he said the US remains "seriously concerned should China provide lethal equipment to Russia."

While Beijing has not yet provided lethal aid to Russia, Chinese companies have reportedly provided non-lethal support to Russian mercenaries operating in Ukraine. Mr Burns said that was evidence that there was a "strong partnership" between China and Russia and their respective leaders.

William Burns (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)
William Burns (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Brennan asked if the closeness between the leaders was also reflected in their attitudes — specifically if Mr Xi suffered from the same "hubris" Mr Burns attributed to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

He replied that it was a "concern in any authoritarian system," noting that, like Mr Putin in Russia, Mr Xi had been consolidating power in China. However, he said that such power grabs also open leaders up to mistakes.

"And as we've seen in, you know, in where Putin's hubris has now gotten Russia, and the horrors that he's ... brought to the people of Ukraine," he said. "In that kind of a system, a very closed decision-making system when nobody challenges, you know, the authority of their insights of an authoritarian leader, you can make some huge blunders as well."

Brennan also questioned the CIA director on China's ambitions in Taiwan, asking if they were preparing for an "outright invasion."

He said the US needs to take "very seriously Xi's ambitions" concerning Taiwan, but said that a military conflict was 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," he said.

The CIA chief – a former US ambassador to Russia and acting secretary of state – said Mr Xi may have adjusted his perspective on invading Taiwan after watching Mr Putin's performance in Ukraine, but said the risks of a "potential use of force" will "probably grow" in the coming years.