Speaking to an audience at Georgetown University in Washington, DC on Thursday, Burns revealed that the United States knew as "a matter of intelligence" that Chinese leader Xi Jinping had ordered his military to be prepared to invade the island nation by 2027.
According to Reuters, Burns cautioned against inferring anything specific from Xi's statement, saying it "does not mean that he's decided to conduct an invasion in 2027, or any other year, but it's a reminder of the seriousness of his focus and his ambition."
"Our assessment at CIA," he continued, "is that I wouldn't underestimate President Xi's ambitions with regard to Taiwan."
Burns went on to highlight China's relationship with Russia, noting that Xi was bound to be "surprised and unsettled" by Putin's "very poor performance" in the months since his forces invaded Ukraine. He warned that despite this, China is still the United States "biggest geopolitical challenge."
"Competition with China is unique in its scale," he said, explaining that it "unfolds over just about every domain, not just military, and ideological, but economic, technological, everything from cyberspace, to space itself as well. It's a global competition in ways that could be even more intense than competition with the Soviets was."
Less than 24 hours before Burns delivered his speech, news broke of a Chinese spy balloon floating in the skies above Montana, however, he did not address the issue directly.
According to the Pentagon, the balloon is "traveling at an altitude well above commercial air traffic and does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground." Brigadier General Pat Ryder explained that, "Instances of this kind of balloon activity have been observed previously over the past several years."
While the Pentagon noted that steps were being taken to ensure the balloon was not able to collect sensitive information, they stopped short of suggesting it should be shot down.
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