Afghan debacle increases risk of war between U.S. and China

A couple days ago I wrote (here), “I’m concerned about a couple of things. One is whether our withdrawal from Afghanistan will be interpreted in Beijing as a lack of resolve and embolden China’s dictator to attack Taiwan.”

I wasn’t imagining things. And it didn’t take long.

After Kabul, China exploits perceptions of American weakness

reads a headline from an article in The Hill on Tuesday, August 17, 2021 (read story here). This is an opinion piece by an American-born journalist/lawyer (bio here) who can claim some expertise about China, having lived and worked there (in high-level corporate law) for 20 years.

But this isn’t somebody’s opinion, it’s a fact:

“’If the U.S. cannot even secure a victory in a rivalry with small countries, how much better could it do in a major power game with China?’ asked the Communist Party’s Global Times on Monday, hours after the Taliban captured Kabul. The semi-official tabloid also stated this, referring to America: ‘It cannot win a war anymore.’”

That’s China’s propaganda apparatus speaking (read more about the Global Times here, especially the part comparing it to Fox News). What the Global Times says is akin to the ruling party holding a press conference.

The writer of The Hill piece says, “China’s regime this year has highlighted themes intended to intimidate others into submission, and Beijing doubled down on this approach in the wake of the American withdrawal from Afghanistan. The risk is that Beijing will now press the advantage, taking on what it says is a weak America.” He then quotes the Global Times again:

“’The DPP authorities,’ a reference to Taiwan’s governing Democratic Progressive Party, ‘need to keep a sober head, and the secessionist forces should reserve the ability to wake up from their dreams,’ the [Global Times] editorial stated. ‘From what happened in Afghanistan, they should perceive that once a war breaks out in the Straits, the island’s defense will collapse in hours and the U.S. military won’t come to help.’ Deterrence is obviously breaking down … this means the world should expect trouble soon.” 

(Emphasis added by me.)

America sent millions of its jobs, and trillions of dollars, to China in exchange for cheap (and often shoddy) goods. China has used that money to rapidly build military capabilities squarely aimed at (1) Taiwan and (2) U.S. military power. Aircraft carriers. Ship-killer missiles. Fifth-gen interceptor jets. Taiwan isn’t an easy nut to crack (see my postings here and here), but China probably could pull it off (see my posting here), and many signs point to an invasion of Taiwan within a few years.

That was true even when China expected the U.S. to defend Taiwan Now, there’s a danger “of a mismatch of perceptions between Beijing and Washington,” arising from the failure in Afghanistan, which “could be a false signal to the Chinese leadership” that America either won’t defend Taiwan, or would be a pushover if it tries.

From that could flow World War 3.

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