The takeover of Kabul by the fundamentalist Taliban group has had a strong impact on the Chinese press and social networks. At the head of the images of a helicopter leaving the American embassy in Afghanistan and a comparison with a similar scene in Saigon – now Ho Chi Minh, capital of Vietnam -, in 1975, the subject on the Afghan crisis on Weibo, a kind of Chinese Twitter, has attracted more than 33 million posts.
“This is, without a doubt, an extremely embarrassing time for the United States and a blow to American power,” wrote the official People’s Daily newspaper, known as the “voice of the Communist Party”. “Before the fall of Saigon, South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu denounced the United States for its treason, [chamando-os] inhuman, irresponsible and unreliable. The same scene is repeating itself now in Afghanistan.
The nationalist tone of the texts produced by the state media was reflected in the virtual forums. As scenes of Afghan desperation roamed the world, comments pointed to the fundamentalists’ swift military incursion as a humiliation for Americans.
“The rise and fall of the status of a world power does not seem to depend on the economy but on the outcome of the war,” wrote Chen Ping, professor at Fudan University and virtual celebrity, with nearly 4 million followers. Another netizen paralleled the situation in Afghanistan and how Americans handled the coronavirus pandemic, “becoming a global joke again,” while another post used the embassy evacuation photos as a symbol of the “destruction of imperialism and reactionaries, both paper tigers.” ”.
The way the Chinese press has reacted to recent events in the neighboring country is not unreasonable. Author of the book “The China-Pakistan Axis: Asia’s New Geopolitics” (The China-Pakistan Axis: The New Geopolitics of Asia, unpublished in Brazil), Andrew Small says Beijing will likely use the chaos of Kabul as an example for its neighbors in this country. sense that Americans are not reliable partners.
“Certainly, the images of the helicopter leaving a devastated town taken by the Taliban are the symbol of a long and fruitless war. It is kind of expected that, despite the instability caused by the fall of Kabul, Beijing will draw parallels with what happened when the Americans lost the Vietnam War. Many vehicles reproduced an interview with [secretário de Estado] Antony Blinken denying defeat as people desperately tried to leave the besieged city ”, analyzes the principal researcher of the German Marshall Fund.
The similarities with Vietnam in 1975 end there, however. For Small, the Chinese will now have to worry about a delicate geopolitical chessboard that brings instability to their borders and threatens economic interests.
China was ahead of the fall of the Afghan government backed by Washington and last month hosted a delegation in Tianjin, 110 kilometers from the capital, led by Abdul Ghani Baradar, co-founder of the Taliban. Shortly after President Ashraf Ghani’s escape, Chinese diplomats declared their intention to maintain “friendly relations” with the new government. The embassy in Kabul has not been closed and Chinese nationals have not been expelled from the country either, although the diplomatic representation issued a note calling for “great attention to the security situation”.
Speculation that recognition of the Taliban’s legitimacy was driven by Chinese financial interests in the region has been raised in the Western press. Small, however, says China’s pragmatic stance denotes internal security concerns rather than an immediate attempt to take advantage of the situation. He also says he doesn’t think China will occupy the power vacuum left by the United States, like what happened in Syria.
“Russia already had a military presence in Syria and replaced the United States when American troops left the region. This is not the case with the Chinese in Afghanistan, and I don’t think China is interested in expanding its Belt and Route initiative there. The strategy appears to be to maintain Afghanistan as a buffer state, preventing it from maintaining links with extremist groups in the Xinjiang region, for example. Beijing seems reluctant to me and probably shouldn’t put money into the country right away, ”he said.
Besides border unrest, Afghanistan also plays an important role in a larger and more delicate picture: China’s relations with Pakistan and India.
After the September 11 attacks, Pakistanis were accused by Washington of financing the terrorist activities of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Islamabad is Beijing’s long-time partner and the historic enemy of the Indians, but the presence of Pakistani-backed fundamentalist militias in disputed Kashmir territory tends to create a “delicate local strategic security situation” that alarms both countries most populous in the world.
For Small, India will probably have to carefully analyze the risks of the Taliban and, even with disagreements with the Chinese, should move closer to Beijing in calling for moderation.
“Relations between India and China are delicate at the moment, with military distance at the border. But the two countries share similar concerns over the terrorist insurgency in South Asia, as nine Chinese workers were killed last month in an Afghan terror-sponsored attack on the Pakistani city of Dasu. Pakistan therefore risks being plunged back into crisis and being pressured by both sides. “
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