The Chinese are falling all over themselves in openly celebrating the U.S. failure in Afghanistan and trying to paint the picture that the same fate awaits Taiwan. While Washington’s track record is not enviable at all, comparing the situation in Afghanistan and Taiwan is truly a case of apples and oranges.
Meanwhile, the Taliban are talking about China financing an economic comeback for Afghanistan. They have also stated that they will be relying primarily on the Chinese to help in rebuilding the country.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid gave an interview to the Italian newspaper La Republica earlier this week saying that the rapid collapse of the Afghan government caused all of the aid coming from the West to be restricted.
“China is our most important partner and represents a fundamental and extraordinary opportunity for us because it is ready to invest in our country and support reconstruction efforts,” Mujahid said.
Mujahid trumpeted the Taliban’s backing of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. “[In addition to] rich copper mines in the country, which, thanks to the Chinese, can be put back into operation and modernized… China is our pass to markets all over the world.” It “will revive the ancient Silk Road.”
He also added that the Taliban view Russia as a valuable partner in the region, not mentioning that the Taliban fought a 10-year war against Russia that enabled their power.
China Tries to Create a Narrative of US Unreliability
Comparing Afghanistan to Taiwan is a real stretch and probably more wishful thinking on Beijing’s side. Taiwan has had a stable, national government for decades. It is a very prosperous country, unlike Afghanistan. Further, Taiwan is strategically vital to the interests of the United States.
If Taiwan were to fall to the Chinese, it would threaten shipping routes to Japan, the Philippines, and South Korea.
The Chinese are trying to force-feed the narrative that Washington is unreliable and quickly losing its position as a global superpower. While China is crowing publicly and continues to trumpet support for the Taliban, the truth is more complicated.
The Chinese actually benefitted from the United States’ presence in Afghanistan as this provided security to China’s western border.
China has stated that the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), an Uyghur group, is a terrorist organization.
The U.S. had previously listed the ETIM as a terrorist group but dropped that classification in October of last year on the basis that “there has been no credible evidence that ETIM continues to exist.” At the time, Beijing had accused Washington of hypocrisy. However, the U.S. insists that China is just using that designation as a convenient excuse to oppress Muslims including ethnic Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
An Uncertain Investment
Nevertheless, China would not likely trust major investments with the Taliban since the Taliban are fractious and unpredictable with many of their leaders acting independently.
Besides that, the Afghan economy is in shambles with the Taliban’s main source of income coming from the narcotics trade.
This illicit trade, firstly, creates more avenues for terrorist groups to pop up in a permissive environment and generate income; China doesn’t want that near its borders. With the Taliban already having a close relationship with al-Qaeda, China no doubt has reservations about terrorist groups operating freely in the region as it could put its investments at risk.
Secondly, the narcotics trade will make it harder for the Taliban government to receive UN legitimacy.
Lastly, the security situation in Afghanistan and the wider region remains fluid. Earlier last month, a suicide bomber targeted Chinese engineers working on an expressway supporting the Gwadar port, the strategic port that shortens China’s routes for energy imports coming from the Middle East. In July, a suicide bomber, who was trained in Afghanistan, attacked a bus carrying Chinese workers to a construction site in northern Pakistan killing nine Chinese nationals.
Seeing the problematic security situation for its people in Pakistan China should be rightfully concerned that Afghanistan will present even more problems. And this time, it won’t have the U.S. protecting its border for them.
However, China is eying the vast mineral deposits of copper, gold, iron, and lithium, which is used in the construction of rechargeable batteries. It is believed that Afghanistan may be home to the largest lithium deposits in the world.
An Omen of Things to Come?
Chinese crowing about the U.S. failure in Afghanistan could be a bad omen.
Without the albatross of maintaining large numbers of troops and cash beefing up the Afghan government, those assets could then be used in countering China in the South China Sea and Taiwan. Recently, Biden sent Vice President Harris to Singapore. This could perhaps signal an increased focus on Southeast Asia and specifically the South China Sea.