WASHINGTON — The CIA’s director said Tuesday he believes China leader Xi Jinping has been “unsettled” by Russia’s difficulties in invading Ukraine, and by how the war has brought the United States and Europe closer.
“I think President Xi and the Chinese leadership are a little bit unsettled by what they’re seeing in Ukraine,” Central Intelligence Agency boss William Burns told US lawmakers during a hearing on global threat assessments.
“They did not anticipate the significant difficulties the Russians were going to run into.”
Nearly two weeks into the invasion, Russian forces are bogged down in Ukraine, suffering as many as 4,000 fatalities, according to the Pentagon’s estimate, and encountering unexpectedly strong resistance from Ukrainian forces.
Beijing has refused to condemn the invasion by its close partner Russia and said Monday their friendship remains “rock solid” despite international condemnation of Moscow. It has expressed an openness to help mediate an end to the war.
On Tuesday, Xi urged “maximum restraint” over Ukraine, calling the crisis “deeply worrying” in a video summit with his French and German counterparts Emmanuel Macron and Olaf Scholz.
Xi said he wanted Russia and Ukraine “to maintain the momentum of negotiations, overcome difficulties and continue the talks to achieve results,” according to state broadcaster CCTV.
Burns, a respected American diplomat for three decades and a former ambassador to Moscow, told the US House panel that China’s leadership is concerned “by the reputational damage that can come by their close association with President Putin.”
He said Beijing was worried about the economic consequences of being a Moscow ally at a moment when China is facing lower annual growth rates than it has for much of the past three decades.
Burns added that China was also concerned about the broader geopolitical fallout of Russia’s invasion, including “by the way in which Vladimir Putin has driven Europeans and Americans much closer together.”