Views in Taiwan are “hardening” in favor of independence after China’s moves in the past few years to tighten control over Hong Kong, the head of the US intelligence community said on Thursday.
“I would say that already Taiwan is hardening, to some extent, toward independence as they’re watching, essentially, what happened in Hong Kong, and I think that is an increasing challenge,” US Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said in testimony before the US Senate Armed Services Committee.
Questions about China dominated the “Worldwide Threats” hearing with Haines and US Lieutenant General Scott Berrier, the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency.
US-China ties have remained tense into US President Joe Biden’s administration, which has continued to criticize Beijing’s actions in Hong Kong, Xinjiang and the South China Sea. Haines previously called China an “unparalleled priority” for the intelligence community.
The spy chief was pressed by US Senator Jack Reed, the panel’s chairman, on the impact that a shift clarifying the US’ long-held position of “strategic ambiguity” on defending Taiwan if it is attacked would have in Beijing and Taipei. Such a move would involve the US saying definitively that it would come to Taiwan’s aid in the case of an attack.
China “would find this deeply” destabilizing, and it would “solidify Chinese perceptions that the US is bent on constraining China’s rise, including through military force,” Haines said.
Berrier said he sees a “significant” threat from China’s rapid modernization of its military, saying that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army is capable of placing nuclear warheads on its next-generation hypersonic missiles.
China is increasingly using technology to try to “gain near-real-time tracking and observation” of Pentagon personnel and activities, he added.
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Wang Wenbin (汪文斌) yesterday told a regular briefing that Beijing is determined to uphold its “sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
“The US should sufficiently recognize the harmful and dangerous nature of Taiwan independence,” he said.
A record 32 percent of Taiwan’s public favors immediate or eventual independence, according to a poll in December last year by the Election Study Center at National Chengchi University.
That figure comes as Beijing tightens its political grip over Hong Kong, in part by imposing national security legislation on the territory.
Still, 54 percent of the survey respondents expressed a preference for maintaining the “status quo” in the Taiwan Strait.
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