Nearly 20 years after America invaded Afghanistan in the wake of the September 11 terror attacks and ousted the Taliban, US troops have completed their humiliating withdrawal and the militant group is back in power. The historical irony is not lost on Beijing. China’s state-controlled media and social media websites have gone into overdrive, rejoicing at the defeat of the US, the shattered image of America’s fabled invincibility and the failure of yet another of its democracy-building exercises. “The fall of Kabul marks the crumbling of the US international image and credibility … and another turning point in the decline of the American hegemon ,” state news agency Xinhua asserted in a commentary last month. Sensing a strategic opening, some Chinese observers have suggested that Beijing should step into the void left by Washington, and so bolster China’s geopolitical influence as well as create additional leverage in countering US President Joe Biden ’s Beijing-focused foreign policy. While it is true that the Afghan debacle has led to the biggest crisis of Biden’s presidency and may cast a long shadow over America’s reliability, especially among those caught up in the US-China rivalry, hopes for another post-9/11 moment are largely misplaced. Twenty years ago, the tragedy of 9/11 changed the course of history and became a turning point in bilateral ties, when US president George W. Bush was forced to put aside his hardline anti-China agenda in exchange for Beijing’s support in America’s war on terror. Two decades after 9/11, China is more concerned than ever about Afghanistan American strategists have since lamented the lost opportunity to keep China down. They say the 9/11 attacks amounted to a godsend for Beijing – a distraction for the US that, in Chinese diplomatic language, allowed a prolonged “period of strategic opportunities for the country’s development”. They nonetheless agree with Chinese observers that 9/11 helped avert a premature US-China collision and ushered in a decade of relations warmer than anything the rival powers had ever experienced. Despite the chaos at Kabul airport and flood of international media criticism, Biden’s Afghan exit has actually achieved its goal of ending America’s longest war, something his three predecessors failed to do. That is hardly good news for US-China relation s, because the Biden administration has long made it clear that closing the chapter on US military involvement in Afghanistan would help Washington refocus on challenges from China. Reorienting America’s grand strategy from terrorism to the great power competition with China, its top adversary, has “the advantage of focusing on major threats to America’s security, economy, and values,” according to Harvard professor Joseph Nye. With Biden eager to put the failures in Afghanistan behind him and salvage his image, his administration is likely to harden its confrontational stance on China in the coming weeks. Biden’s first face-to-face Quad summit at the White House next week with the leaders of India, Japan and Australia, and the talk about allowing Taiwan to rename its de facto embassy in Washington, offer a taste of what to expect in bilateral ties. Equally importantly, the Taliban remains largely a wild card, as it is too early to tell if and how the militant group would honour its pledges about cutting ties with its pro-terror past and ensuring stability in war-torn Afghanistan. Although the Taliban takeover amounts to a victory for its primary patron Pakistan and has also provided China some leverage over India, Beijing is understandably wary of the hardline militant group’s links with Uygur Muslim separatists in Xinjiang . As Beijing edges closer to officially recognising the Taliban and its new government amid a prevailing sense of hesitancy around the world, much remains uncertain about how this gambit on Afghanistan would play out for China’s relations with the US and its own global ambitions.