Several Afghans show credentials to international forces in an attempt to flee the country on one of the flights in the evacuation operation, at Hamid Karzai Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan on August 26 | Photo: EFE / AKHTER GULFAM
In Washington’s rarefied atmosphere, the disaster unfolding in Afghanistan has led to questions about how China might exploit this, as well as analysis and discussion of what is happening in Kabul.
A frequent question is whether Beijing will feel encouraged to invade Taiwan, either because the United States is afraid to evacuate the Americans from Afghanistan, or because the reputation of the United States military has been destroyed.
It is certainly possible that China could take advantage of the diversion of American attention to seize Taiwan, but with difficulty. An invasion is not something planned overnight.
Indeed, scenes broadcast from Kabul show that even a relatively small opposition can massively disrupt complex operations. The Taliban don’t even try to shoot down American planes that are trying to evacuate people, but the evacuation is a disaster.
A real invasion, like an invasion of Taiwan by China, would be much more complex and meet with much more opposition. Beijing is unlikely to be about to commit the necessary forces on a whim, however attractive it may be.
Another question is whether China will want to enter Afghanistan to avoid a political vacuum or to hamper the Taliban’s potential to support Uyghur separatists in China.
These questions fail to recognize the fundamental ties between the Taliban and Pakistan, and between Pakistan and China. The United States has never been able to deny the Taliban sanctuary in neighboring Pakistan. Indeed, the Pakistani security services played a key role in the creation and maintenance of the Taliban even before September 11.
But if Pakistan was ready to challenge the United States (to the point where Osama bin Laden was in hiding, not in Afghanistan but in Abbottabad, Pakistan), it was much less willing to challenge China. Ties between China and Pakistan have been close since Pakistan recognized the young People’s Republic of China in 1950 (the third country to do so). Pakistani leaders have described China as their “friend of the hour”, compared to the United States, which is described as their “friend of the good times”.
Would Pakistan be prepared to compromise its relations with the People’s Republic of China to support the Taliban if the Taliban considered the spread of radical Islam in China? Pakistan’s policy towards the Uyghurs indicates that Islamabad values its ties with Beijing far more than any form of Islamic solidarity. In this regard, Pakistan is further supported by the Organization for Islamic Cooperation, which passed a resolution in 2019 approving China’s treatment of its Muslims.
In short, the Taliban’s radicalism against China would likely be a lonely effort.
A final question is whether China wishes to exploit Afghanistan’s mineral resources. The nation is considered to be a treasure house of various minerals, including rare earths. But the Chinese, while seeking resources in the world, already have sources for many of these resources. This doesn’t mean that Beijing would ignore Afghan minerals, but that it isn’t necessarily in a rush to explore them.
China’s patience will likely pay off if it waits and uses the gap to better understand the region’s different tribes, personalities and ethnicities and negotiate from a position of cultural and ethnic familiarity.
What China gains in light of America’s catastrophic failure in Afghanistan is a wonderful opportunity to highlight American insecurity and irresponsibility. As Beijing has already pointed out in Taiwan, if Washington will not support Afghanistan, where it has trillions of dollars, thousands of lives and has been fighting for 20 years, why should Taipei believe that Washington is? will engage for the security of Taiwan?
What is even more problematic is that these same questions are undoubtedly asked, spontaneously, in capitals around the world, even if Beijing is not rushing the subject. The People’s Republic of China does not need to try to create a picture of America’s unreliability and potential incompetence. He need only point out the chaos at Kabul airport and the inexplicable decision to withdraw US military forces when there were still tens of thousands of civilians in Afghanistan.
It remains to be seen what actions Washington will take in an attempt to recover from the situation and limit China’s ability to capitalize on these opportunities.
© 2021 Daily Signal. Posted with permission. Original in English.