Biden spy chief: China would find change in US policy toward Taiwan ‘deeply destabilizing’
Beijing would find it “deeply destabilizing” if the United States were to explicitly state it would come to Taiwan’s defense in the event of a Chinese invasion, the Biden administration’s spy chief said Thursday.
“From our perspective, if we were to see a U.S. shift from strategic ambiguity, as you’ve identified it, to clarity over a willingness to intervene in a Taiwan contingency, the Chinese would find this deeply destabilizing,” Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“I think it would solidify Chinese perceptions that the U.S. is bent on constraining China’s rise, including through military force, and would probably cause Beijing to aggressively undermine U.S. interests worldwide,” she added.
From Taipei’s perspective, Haines said, it’s “possible” a U.S. change from “strategic ambiguity” could lead to more Taiwanese movement toward independence.
“I would say that already Taiwan is hardening to some extent towards independence as they’re watching, essentially, what happened in Hong Kong, and I think that is an increasing challenge,” she added.
Haines’s comments at the committee’s annual worldwide threats hearing come after the outgoing top U.S. military officer for the region suggested it’s time to rethink U.S. policy toward Taiwan.
Under decades-old policy, the United States maintains “strategic ambiguity” toward Taiwan where it does not explicitly say it would come to the island’s defense in a conflict with China. The policy is aimed at both avoiding provoking Beijing and not emboldening Taiwan into formally declaring independence, which could lead to a Chinese invasion.
Asked about the strategic ambiguity policy at a Senate Armed Services hearing last month, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (Indo-Pacom) chief Adm. Philip Davidson said that while the current policy has “helped keep Taiwan in its current status,” he believes “these things should be reconsidered routinely.”
Davidson also said China could try to invade Taiwan in as soon as six years. Adm. John Aquilino, who will take over command of Indo-Pacom on Friday, has also told senators a possible Chinese invasion of Taiwan is “much closer to us than most think.”
“The rejuvenation of the Chinese Communist Party is at stake” when it comes to Taiwan, Aquilino said last month, adding that Beijing views annexing the island as its “No. 1 priority.”
At Thursday’s hearing, Haines declined to answer a question on a timeline for a possible invasion of Taiwan during the public session, saying she would prefer to comment during the classified session.
Testifying alongside Haines, Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier said Chinese President Xi Jinping has a goal to “unify Taiwan with China.”
“We don’t know that he’s actually made a decision on how or when to do that,” Berrier added, but noted there has been “an increase in [Chinese military] activity on the sea and in the airspace around Taiwan over the last year.”