US intelligence chiefs say China is ‘unsettled’ over Russia’s war in Ukraine

Beijing did not foresee outcome where Russian forces struggle in Ukraine, intelligence directors say

Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines and CIA Director William Burns attend the US Senate select committee on intelligence in Washington. EPA

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US intelligence chiefs told Congress on Thursday that China is unsettled over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine but its relationship with Moscow is unlikely to suffer.

Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines and CIA Director William Burns told the Senate intelligence committee that Beijing had not foreseen that Russian forces would struggle in Ukraine.

“[China’s] President Xi [Jinping] 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,” Mr Burns told the committee, as Russia's war enters its third week.

He said the war was undercutting China’s efforts to drive a wedge between US and Europe, given the growing co-ordination between the two over the past three weeks.

Mr Burns said China viewed Europe “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".

“What [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin has so successfully done is to make that much less likely,” he said.

But the US is not expecting China’s relationship with Russia to suffer over the war.

“We are seeing them co-operate more," Ms Haines said. "We anticipate that will strengthen over the coming years."

She referred to growing military, economic and political ties between Beijing and Moscow, but said this growth had its limits and was unlikely to reach the level of the Nato alliance.

Senior US officials regarded sanctions on Russia as obstructing China’s ability to do business with Moscow.

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the sanctions were limiting China's ability to buy Russian oil, and Beijing was not “meaningfully offsetting or lessening” sanctions pressure on Moscow.

“My sense is that financial institutions in China that do business in dollars and in euros are worried about the impact of sanctions,” Ms Yellen said in a Washington Post Live interview.

China has refused to supply Russian airlines with aircraft parts, an official at Moscow's aviation authority told Russian news agencies on Thursday, after Boeing and Airbus halted their supply.

China has strongly opposed sanctions on Russia.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian vowed on Thursday to retaliate with a “serious response” if the US hits Chinese companies doing business with Moscow.

Reuters contributed to this report

Updated: March 10, 2022, 9:02 PM