China to continue deepening ties with Russia, US intel chiefs say

Director of National Intelligence says Beijing remains 'our unparalleled priority'

US intelligence chiefs speak during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in Washington. AFP
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China is likely to continue its economic and defensive co-operation with Moscow, despite pressure from western nations over Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the US intelligence community has assessed.

“Despite global backlash over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, China will maintain its diplomatic, defence, economic and technology co-operation with Russia to continue trying to challenge the United States, even as it will limit public support,” the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said.

Speaking to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said ties between Russia and China will continue to deepen.

“We don't see them becoming kind of allies the way we are with allies in Nato, but nevertheless, we do see [relations] increasing across every sector,” she said.

The ODNI's annual assessment and Wednesday's hearing were mainly focused on China, as intelligence chiefs were grilled on the growing challenges Beijing poses to Washington.

Chinese President Xi Jinping's government, the report found, is likely to continue to push Taiwan towards unification this year while using military force to intimidate rivals in the South China Sea.

Beijing will also look to expand its global influence through developments such as the Belt and Road Initiative.

“Perhaps needless to say, the People's Republic of China, which is increasingly challenging the United States, economically, technologically, politically and militarily around the world, remains our unparalleled priority,” said Ms Haines.

She added that China is convinced it can fulfil Mr Xi's vision “at the expense of US power and influence”.

“The next few years are critical as strategic competition with China and Russia intensifies, in particular of how the world will evolve, and whether the rise of authoritarianism can be checked and reversed,” Ms Haines said.

The ODNI report comes after US officials warned Beijing about providing Moscow with weapons for use in Ukraine.

Intelligence chiefs assessed that Russian President Vladimir Putin does not want direct conflict with the US or Nato, but that possibility still exists.

Russia's military failures could weaken Mr Putin's standing and he could “trigger additional escalatory” measures to win back public support.

Ms Haines said US intelligence believes Russia will not make major territorial gains this year in a “grinding, attritional war” in which there is no clear military advantage.

“But Putin most likely calculates the time works in his favour, and the prolonging the war, including with potential pauses in the fighting, may be his best remaining pathway to eventually securing Russia's strategic interest in Ukraine, even if it takes years,” she said.

Updated: March 08, 2023, 6:48 PM