Missouri Senator Roy Blunt questioned the nation’s top intelligence officers Thursday about what to expect from China’s relationship with Russia as the war in Ukraine escalates. The Senate Intelligence Committee heard testimony from National Intelligence Director Avril Haines, FBI Director Christopher Wray and CIA Director William Burns.
Here is an excerpt of the senator’s questioning of Burns:
BLUNT: Director Burns, another idea about the economy, do you think Putin overestimated what the Chinese might be able to do to offset the sanctions and other economic activities? Or do you think the Chinese will step in in a way that he might have anticipated?
BURNS: Thanks very much for the question, senator. I think he may be overestimating the extent to which the Chinese leadership will be able or willing to help him deal with the quite severe economic consequences of his invasion of Ukraine. It remains to be seen how this will play out. But, you know, I recall after the sanctions that were levied against Russia after his prior aggression in Crimea, you know, the Chinese drove, you know, a very hard bargain over pipelines that the Russians were trying to negotiate. So they weren’t, you know, particularly flexible or sympathetic in a way during that period as well. So I suspect there’s not going to be any easy out for President Putin as he looks at trying to deal with those economic consequences, not from the Chinese, not from anyone else.
BLUNT: Do we have any sense of how the Chinese have reacted to their recent locking arms with the Russians right before all of these events happened?
BURNS: I think, senator, that the Chinese leadership first has invested a lot in partnership with Russia, and I don’t expect that to change anytime soon. I do, however, believe that the Chinese leadership, President Xi in particular, is unsettled by what he’s seeing, partly because his own intelligence doesn’t appear to have told him what was going to happen. Second, because of the reputational damage that China suffers by association with the ugliness of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. Third, by the economic consequences at a time when, you know, growth rates in China, as you look over the rest of this year, are lower than they’ve been in 30 years. And fourth, I think, because President Xi is probably a little bit unsettled as he watches the way in which President Putin has driven, you know, Americans and Europeans more closely together and strengthen the transatlantic alliance in ways that would have been a little bit hard to imagine, before the invasion began. I think the Chinese leadership looks at Europe, not just as a market, but as a kind of player with whom they can have an independent relationship and try to look for ways in which they can drive wedges between us and our European allies. And what President Putin has so successfully done is to make that much less likely.