For the United States, the balance of the invasion of Afghanistan is mainly accounted for. By disastrously leaving the country, the Americans sealed the failure of the two-decade intervention, claimed more than 150,000 lives, consumed $ 1 trillion, and ultimately crowned the ruling Taliban.
And what is the outcome for China? Those in a hurry might conclude that if the outcome is bad for Washington, it is good for Beijing. But the assessment is disconnected from reality.
The Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan worries above all the Chinese, who are better prepared than the United States for this result.
In July, as Joe Biden promoted the virtues of Afghan troops and spoke of an orderly departure from the country, China’s foreign minister welcomed an official Taliban delegation to the city of Tianjin. But he did it out of political calculation rather than preference.
China and Afghanistan are neighbors. They are connected by the Wakhan Corridor, a narrow strip of mountainous terrain that precisely connects Afghanistan to Xinjiang. Object of international attention because of its treatment of Uyghur Muslim inhabitants, the province already represented for Beijing a concern for national security and territorial integrity. Now even more.
At the forefront of Chinese priorities is the Taliban’s interest in ensuring the stability of Afghanistan and containing the so-called “three forces of evil”: terrorism, extremism and separatism. The fear is that the country will become a base of support for the actions in China of terrorist and separatist groups, in particular the Islamic Movement of East Turkestan.
It is true that the vacuum created by the Americans gives way to the Chinese. It makes sense that Beijing counts the country on the New Silk Road and promotes greater economic integration between China, Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is interesting to use economic and diplomatic instruments to exert greater influence in Afghanistan and Central Asia.
But the real investment opportunities depend on a minimum of security and stability in the country, which is not guaranteed. Beijing’s risk aversion has increased with recent attacks on Chinese involved in projects in Pakistan.
China’s gains from the Taliban victory are uncertain except for one. The only guaranteed gain comes from the degradation of the image of the United States in the world. Doubts are growing about the credibility of US security promises.
Beijing wants the message to reach Taiwan – to authorities and citizens. He wants them to understand the risks of relying on the United States in a separatist adventure. Images and reports of abandoned Afghans by the Americans add color to the speculation fueled with relish here.
However, how China treats the Afghan Taliban will say a lot about what kind of power it wants to be – something the world will pay attention to. Beijing will calibrate its relationship by the group’s ability to keep its promises to stay away from the so-called evil triad.
And the relationship will also test the limits of Chinese diplomacy, formed to value non-interference in internal affairs. How far can Beijing stand idly by in the face of the brutal setbacks in the situation of women and girls? Or a humanitarian crisis at the border? Like it or not, your recent status in power comes with greater responsibilities and expectations.
The US failure also poses risks for China. From now on, Beijing’s actions and omissions will bear their own weight in Afghan history for the next 20 years.
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