Afghanistan in Context: Xi Jinping Has Occupied the Sudetenstan

September 2, 2021 Updated: September 8, 2021


As we try to understand what happened on Aug. 26 at the Kabul airport with the American loss of life, some disturbing facts are coming to light.

In a military retrograde (withdrawal, in civilian terms), especially when conducted under duress, security is one of the primary planning factors. With the deadly attacks that took place at the Abbey Gate to the airport and close by Baron Hotel at Kabul, it now turns out that it wasn’t U.S. forces that controlled the perimeter of the airport, it was Taliban elements.

This is very discomforting and violates basic principles of security in military planning at the tactical level. A logical question arises: Who allowed or directed this concession or constraint?

U.S. military forces should not only have decisively controlled the perimeter and access points, but they should have also established a security buffer zone from two to 10 miles out, based on the intelligence assessments and the tactical commander’s estimate.

This buffer would include the high-risk roads to the gates, which is where the Aug. 26 detonations occurred. Apparently, a security zone wasn’t implemented. I’m not in any way questioning any on-the-ground U.S. military commander, and the situation is chaotic and evolving, but an odd picture is emerging on the overall withdrawal debacle. Again, who allowed or directed this concession or constraint?

Another very important aspect is operational security; this means two key imperatives.

First, there should be tight control of operational details, but at the same time, a messaging of firmness, resolve, and clarity. The utter panic and rush to the airport demonstrates the failure of the second imperative.

The first imperative was also questioned by the absolute staggering admission that lists of Americans and those who worked with Americans and all the biometric data of Afghans who helped U.S. forces were handed over. It’s baffling and perhaps unlawful to hand this over. The administration seems to feel that the Taliban are good, others are bad. The Taliban are factional just like other groups. Who allowed or directed this concession or constraint?

President Joe Biden pointed at former President Donald Trump during his Aug. 26 press conference, but failed to share the seminal difference.

Trump’s strategy was based on the Taliban meeting tiered conditions that would allow an incremental and orderly withdrawal. The failure on all these factors paints a picture of past historical events such as the ill-thought-out French strategy of Dien Bien Phu or the utter panic and collapse of Iran in January 1980, when President Jimmy Carter’s vacillation issued the order for CIA to cease assistance—panic and chaos ensued in Iran after this early case of virtue signaling.

In any case, this whole disaster in Kabul has produced a massive geopolitical vacuum, which is never good.

China Fills the Vacuum

In some ways, there is another historical analogy for Afghanistan—Hitler’s occupation of the Sudetenland. This was one of the German leader’s key steps on the pathway to the eruption of World War II. China is the prime benefactor of the vacuum the United States has created. China needs Afghanistan for four reasons: access to energy, rare earth metals, securing a periphery state, and prestige.

China has three strategic vulnerabilities in its battle to take over world leadership from the United States. The first is access to the American capital market. The almighty U.S. dollar is still the primary currency China is forced to use. In this vulnerability, Xi is throwing a tantrum by dissolving multiple initial public offerings by Chinese firms through U.S. capital markets to access capital.

It’s baffling, but Xi is more concerned with the threat of Chinese high-tech firms to CCP regime stability than their access to capital. The next two strategic vulnerabilities for China are dependency on the importation of energy and food.

Afghanistan solves the Chinese energy strategic vulnerability by the potential of oil and gas pipelines across Afghanistan to Pakistan (and easily extended to China), and its primary provider of oil, Iran.

Afghanistan also provides great stocks of rare earth metals.

And finally, the collapse and chaos of Western presence in Afghanistan allows China to be the prime foreign influence in Afghanistan, secure a periphery state, and chortle over the U.S. humiliation.

Hitler took the Sudetenland; China has taken the Sudetenstan. But China is under economic duress at home, and there is a historical track record of what totalitarian leaders do in this situation.

What’s Next?

The utter fecklessness of the Biden administration has mirrored Carter’s Iran crisis. The Afghan debacle sends a strong green light to the CCP as far as the likely success in further international adventurism. The message from the Biden administration is that there is an American lack of interest in asserting U.S. national interests.

If that’s the case, why not continue with other countries close by? America’s collapse in Afghanistan gives China an immense return on investment. I would suggest that the obvious is true—China can now pivot east and focus on Taiwan.

The rapid buildup of People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) amphibious warfare capacity over the past two years has been concerning—especially its mimicking of the key U.S. Naval enablers: the Military Sealift Command, and the National Defense Reserve Fleet.

The PLAN has never done a forced landing before, so the obvious answer is to conduct a dry run somewhere before Taiwan. But where? If I was a PLAN planner, northern Luzon in the Philippines is the intuitive course of action.

Japan is moving to militarize the island chain to the right rear flank of Taiwan. If China moves on Taiwan, Japan is displaying resolve to defend Taiwan. The question is clear—what about America?

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

John Mills
Col. (Ret.) John Mills is a national security professional with service in five eras: Cold War, Peace Dividend, War on Terror, World in Chaos, and now—Great Power Competition. He is the former director of cybersecurity policy, strategy, and international affairs at the Department of Defense.