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China has doubts that it can capture Taiwan, CIA chief says

China's President Xi Jinping. (Alexei Nikolsky/Russian Presidential Press and Information Office/TASS/Abaca Press/TNS)
February 28, 2023

Chinese President Xi Jinping and his military leaders may be harboring doubts about their ability to take Taiwan, despite Xi’s order that they be ready to capture the island by 2027, CIA Director William Burns said during a TV appearance over the weekend.

“President Xi has instructed … 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 said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” according to a transcript.

“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.

He added that “[Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s experience in Ukraine” – an ongoing year-long invasion that has united Russia’s rivals while failing to achieve its objectives – has “probably reinforced some of those doubts.”

READ MORE: US sending up to 200 troops to Taiwan to train for attack from China

Still, Burns cautioned that the risks of “a potential use of force probably grow the further into this decade you get and beyond it, into the following decade as well.”

China and Taiwan split in 1949 in a civil war that never officially ended. Since then, China’s openly stated goal of reabsorbing the democratic and capitalist island has grown into one of the world’s most sensitive geopolitical flashpoints.

READ MORE: When might China invade Taiwan? Depends who you ask

Burns said earlier this month that according to intelligence, Xi had instructed his People’s Liberation Army to “be ready by 2027 to conduct a successful invasion of Taiwan,” as reported by Fox News. The claim echoed similar statements made in recent years by two consecutive heads of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command: U.S. Navy admirals Phil Davidson and John Aquilino.

U.S. Air Force General Mike Minihan recently drew attention by predicting China would invade Taiwan as soon as 2025, urging officers in a leaked memo to promptly visit a shooting range and “aim for the head.” The Defense Department distanced itself from those comments, with a spokesperson telling Air & Space Forces Magazine they are “not representative of the department’s view on China.”

The top U.S. general, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, predicted in November that Xi “would conclude that an attack on Taiwan in the near future would be an excessive amount of risk, and it would end in a strategic debacle for the Chinese military,” as reported by Bloomberg.

The mainland-to-island invasion would be a “very difficult military operation to execute, and I think it’ll be some time before the Chinese have the military capability,” Milley said.