In recent days, many analysts have stepped forward to make predictions about how America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan will affect China’s regional and global standing. Some argue that withdrawal would free up American resources to focus on China and the Indo-Pacific region. For others, the withdrawal opens a void for China to exploit. Still others assert that Taiwan is now more vulnerable because Beijing has taken the measure of America’s determination and efficiency and found it lacking.
While it is difficult to know with certainty how China’s leaders will assess developments in Afghanistan, it is possible to draw some preliminary conclusions. The following observations are based on more than a decade of discussions with Chinese officials and experts focused on such questions.
Does China see an opportunity to exploit it in Afghanistan after America’s withdrawal?
Most of my Chinese counterparts I know do not indulge in any optimism about their ability to transform Afghanistan. They have no ambition to run Afghanistan or turn Afghanistan into a model for their own form of government. Beijing only controls its own interests in Afghanistan, which are mostly driven by security concerns. Chinese leaders are concerned that instability will spread from Afghanistan to neighboring regions, including to China. They are also concerned about the inspiration that Islamic militarism can provide to others with similar aspirations.
Although Chinese leaders are not enthusiastic about the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, they will not allow principle to stand in the way of pragmatism, said Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. hosting From Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in Tianjin three weeks ago. Beijing will recognize the Taliban and look for ways to encourage the Taliban to heed China’s security concerns. Beijing will urge the Taliban to deny safe haven to Uyghur militants and other groups that could destabilize Central Asia or harm Chinese interests in the region or at home.
Over time, China will welcome opportunities to tap into Afghanistan’s rich mineral deposits and incorporate Afghanistan into the Belt and Road Initiative, but it has likely learned from America’s experience that even modest expectations in Afghanistan must be tempered. Beijing underdevelopment Its major investment in the Mis Aynak copper mine shows its willingness to exercise patience in pursuit of a return on investment. It will likely take time for Beijing to gain confidence that its defense security requirements are being met before it attempts to advance its positive interests in Afghanistan.
How will China respond to America’s withdrawal?
The main means by which China may seek to benefit from the US withdrawal may be its efforts to advance American combo of regression. Chinese propagandists are likely to seek to use tragic images of America’s abandonment of Afghan partners as evidence of Americans’ unreliability and incompetence. These efforts will likely seek to reach two audiences: a domestic audience and an international (non-US) audience.
For a domestic audience, Beijing’s message will be that the United States is not a cult. Unlike Washington, Beijing will not meddle in other countries’ civil wars, spill blood, and leave chaos behind.
For an international audience, the message is likely that America’s best days are over. Afghanistan is just another way station on America’s decline. The rise of China is the story of the future.
Beijing’s weakness in its efforts to score points from the tragedy will likely reduce its impact. The most powerful action the United States could take to undermine Beijing’s narrative would not be to complain about it, but to work to restore confidence in the ability of the United States to do big things well. Prestige on the world stage will ultimately be determined by the performance.
Is Taiwan now in greater danger because of the events in Afghanistan?
From a strict security point of view, Taiwan is no more vulnerable today than it was a week ago. None of the restrictions on Beijing’s ability to wage war on Taiwan have been eased due to developments in Afghanistan. China’s leaders would likely understand that America’s only vital interest in Afghanistan was to prevent a terrorist attack on the United States.
Taiwan is not Afghanistan. Taiwan is a thriving democratic society, important link in global supply chains, and a close partner and friend of the United States and other countries in the region, including Japan and Australia. It is also seen as a leader in the credibility of US security commitments, even though Taiwan is not an official partner in the US alliance.
The direct focus of Chinese efforts is likely to seek to undermine psychological confidence From the people of Taiwan in their future. Beijing wishes to present a narrative within Taiwan that the United States is distant and unreliable, that Taiwan is isolated and lonely, and that Taiwan’s only path to peace and prosperity runs through Beijing. Chinese propaganda will almost certainly seek to use events in Afghanistan to advance its favorite narrative inside Taiwan.
Given Beijing’s current tough stance on Taiwan, fresh memories of events in Hong Kong, and the DPP’s control of the presidency and legislature, there is little potential for Beijing’s psychological pressure to lead to near-term policy shifts in Taipei. If questions of American reliability increase as a topic of political debate in Taiwan, they may become a factor in upcoming elections and the policies that stem from them.
The events in Afghanistan will not affect America determination To maintain a firm and stable military position in the western Pacific. Important as this is, senior US officials will also need to deliver clear and credible messages to Taiwan’s leaders and the public of America’s determination to ensure that differences in the Taiwan Strait are resolved peacefully and in a way that reflects the will of the people of Taiwan.