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Crowds fleeing the Taliban advance brave barbed wire as they try to get inside Kabul’s international airport on Monday. Photo: Reuters

Afghan chaos left by US should be a warning to Taiwan: Chinese media

  • ‘Ignoble’ pull-out hurts US credibility and would make allies doubt its commitment, observers say, as Chinese media sees proof of decaying US hegemony
  • Wavering faith among regional partners could make the US ramp up efforts to counter China, caution analysts
The rapid collapse of the US-backed government in Afghanistan and the chaotic evacuation of Americans from Kabul could not only be “a powerful shock” for Washington’s allies and partners in Asia, but also complicate China’s challenges in its regional rivalry with the US, say observers.
The abrupt fall of Kabul saw Chinese official media play up the rhetoric about the US’ decaying global hegemony, with hawkish tabloid Global Times calling the chaos in Afghanistan “a lesson that Taiwan needs to learn”.

“The shock of the US abandonment of the Kabul regime has been felt more strongly in some parts of Asia, particularly in Taiwan,” it said in an editorial on Monday. “Taiwan is undoubtedly the Asian region that relies most heavily on the US for protection.”


Helicopters fly over Kabul to ferry diplomats after Taliban reaches Afghan capital

Helicopters fly over Kabul to ferry diplomats after Taliban reaches Afghan capital

The US scrambled helicopters to evacuate embassy staff as the Taliban entered Kabul on Sunday, dealing what many say is a heavy blow to Washington’s global influence and sparking eerie reminiscences of the 1975 fall of Saigon following the Vietnam war.

This came less than three weeks after assurances from US President Joe Biden that the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan would never play out like events in the capital of US-backed South Vietnam 46 years ago, and that it was unlikely the Taliban would completely overrun the country.

Risks and opportunities for China in Taliban’s return to Kabul

China and Russia have strongly criticised Washington’s abrupt decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, with Beijing warning that it could worsen the security situation in the neighbouring country and pose a serious threat to regional security.

Shi Yinhong, professor of international relations and director of the Centre on American Studies at the Renmin University of China, said the ignoble end to the US’ 20-year war in Afghanistan could hurt its credibility, particularly in Asia, where doubts over American commitment have lingered since the Donald Trump era.

“The fact that the US has been defeated in a 20-year war by its old enemy, who retook the entire country of Afghanistan at a quicker pace than expected, is quite a powerful shock to the credibility of the US and the position of the Biden administration itself, as it was for the US after 1975.”


At least 7 people killed at Kabul airport as thousands of Afghans try to flee Taliban: US officials

At least 7 people killed at Kabul airport as thousands of Afghans try to flee Taliban: US officials

Even for US allies and partners like Japan, Australia and Taiwan, which have been increasingly vocal in their support for Washington’s efforts to counter China, “such a strong shock would inevitably add more question marks [for their leaders] even though they may choose to believe that their strategic importance is bigger,” Shi added.

As foreign nationals and Afghans struggle to flee the country, Beijing has stepped up efforts to underline the narrative that the chaos in Afghanistan is a “turning point in the decline of American hegemony”.

“The fall of Kabul marks the collapse of the US’ international image and credibility,” a Xinhua commentary said on Monday. “It has been proven again that the United States is the world’s largest exporter of unrest and that its hegemonic policy of ‘only me, rather than the world’ has caused too many human tragedies.”

The Taliban won. Here’s what that could mean

Lu Xiang, a US affairs expert with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the situation now in Afghanistan could also be “a lesson” to Southeast Asian countries which continue to have faith in the US.

“These countries have experienced the Vietnam war, and they should have a deep understanding about the unreliability of the US,” Lu said. “Afghanistan [has] now offered them a new lesson.”

Vietnamese crowds scale the walls of the US embassy in Saigon in an effort to get to a helicopter pickup zone as the capital of South Vietnam falls to North Vietnamese forces on May 1, 1975. Photo: AP

In his speech in July, Biden said the US needed to withdraw from Afghanistan so that it could “focus on shoring up America’s core strengths to meet the strategic competition with China and other nations that [was] really going to determine … the future”.

Beijing is and should be cautious, “as it remains to be seen whether [the US withdrawal] will benefit China in the longer term”, Shi said.

Afghanistan is an object lesson in how to ‘unbuild’ a country

Chen Xiangmiao, a research fellow with the National Institute for South China Sea Studies in Haikou, warned of greater challenges for China.

Leaders in Southeast Asia have repeatedly expressed their unwillingness to pick a side between China and the US, and, despite the territorial disputes with Beijing over the South China Sea, stability has been largely maintained, leaving little room for Washington to really step in, he said.

The US could ramp up efforts to counter China on the South China Sea and even the Myanmar issue, Chen noted.

“Also, China’s relations with the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia could face challenges from the US in the spheres of security, diplomacy and economy,” Chen said. “In response, China [should] continue to step up its engagement with Southeast Asian countries.”

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: mayhem ‘a lesson that Taiwan needs to learn’