WASHINGTON, Dec 3 (Reuters) - Chinese leader Xi Jinping
is unwilling to accept Western vaccines despite the challenges
China is facing with COVID-19, and while recent protests there
are not a threat to Communist Party rule, they could affect his
personal standing, U.S. Director of National Intelligence Avril
Haines said on Saturday.
Although China's daily COVID cases are near all-time highs,
some cities are taking steps to loosen testing and quarantine
rules after Xi's zero-COVID policy triggered a sharp economic
slowdown and public unrest.
Haines, speaking at the annual Reagan National Defense Forum
in California, said that despite the social and economic impact
of the virus, Xi "is unwilling to take a better vaccine from the
West, and is instead relying on a vaccine in China that's just
not nearly as effective against Omicron."
"Seeing protests and the response to it is countering the
narrative that he likes to put forward, which is that China is
so much more effective at government," Haines said.
"It's, again, not something we see as being a threat to
stability at this moment, or regime change or anything like
that," she said, while adding: "How it develops will be
important to Xi's standing."
China's foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a
request for comment sent on Sunday.
China has not approved any foreign COVID vaccines, opting
for those produced domestically, which some studies have
suggested are not as effective as some foreign ones. That means
easing virus prevention measures could come with big risks,
according to experts.
China had not asked the United States for vaccines, the
White House said earlier in the week.
One U.S. official told Reuters there was "no expectation at
present" that China would approve western vaccines.
"It seems fairly far-fetched that China would greenlight
Western vaccines at this point. It's a matter of national pride,
and they'd have to swallow quite a bit of it if they went this
route," the official said.
Haines also said North Korea recognized that China was less
likely to hold it accountable for what she said was Pyongyang's
"extraordinary" number of weapons tests this year.
Amid a record year for missile tests, North Korean leader
Kim Jong Un said last week his country intends to have the
world's most powerful nuclear force.
Speaking on a later panel, Admiral John Aquilino, the
commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, said China had no
motivation to restrain any country, including North Korea, that
was generating problems for the United States.
"I'd argue quite differently that it's in their strategy to
drive those problems," Aquilino said of China.
He said China had considerable leverage to press North Korea
over its weapons tests, but that he was not optimistic about
Beijing "doing anything helpful to stabilize the region."
(Reporting by Michael Martina, David Brunnstrom, Idrees Ali,
and Eric Beech; Additional reporting by Martin Quin Pollard in
Beijing; Editing by Sandra Maler and Lincoln Feast)