US Will Boost Efforts to Counter China in Wake of Afghanistan, Experts Say

US Will Boost Efforts to Counter China in Wake of Afghanistan, Experts Say
President Joe Biden gestures as he delivers remarks on the U.S. military’s ongoing evacuation efforts in Afghanistan in the White House on Aug. 20, 2021. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
Cathy He
Frank Fang
News Analysis

The United States is likely to intensify efforts to strengthen alliances aimed at countering the Chinese regime, in the wake of blistering criticism over how Washington has handled its withdrawal from Afghanistan, experts say.

The United States’ pullout from Afghanistan was intended to align with the Biden administration’s efforts to shift its focus to Asia, where a communist Beijing has bolstered its military and economic influence in the past decade. But the United States’ chaotic withdrawal amid a rapid Taliban takeover of the country has raised concerns about the administration’s credibility in other parts of the world.

The Chinese regime, quick to exploit the crisis, has been on a propaganda spree, calling into question Washington’s reliability in the Asian region, particularly toward Taiwan, the democratic self-ruled island that Beijing claims as its own and threatens to invade.
President Joe Biden on Aug. 20 said that he had seen “no question[ing] of our credibility from our allies around the world.” Members of his administration, meanwhile, have been busy reassuring allies of the United States’ global commitments.

“You have seen us invest in NATO. You have seen us invest in the Indo-Pacific in ways that go beyond what previous administrations have done,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Aug. 18.

“You have seen us stand by our partners, whether that is Taiwan, whether it is Israel, whether it is any other country, any other entity with whom we have a rock-solid partnership and a commitment,” he said.

Vice President Kamala Harris on Aug. 22 touched down in Singapore as part of a Southeast Asia trip that will also take her to Vietnam, in the administration’s most high-profile visit yet to the region. The trip, announced last month, took on an added urgency in light of the situation in Afghanistan, and is meant to show that the United States is in the Indo-Pacific region to “stay,” a senior administration official told Reuters ahead of Harris’s arrival in Singapore.

Doubling Down on Alliances

The intense heat taken by the administration over the poorly executed Afghanistan pullout will likely prompt it to work doubly hard to fortify alliances, in its bid to push back against Beijing’s increasing aggression in the Indo-Pacific and beyond, experts say.

Biden said the withdrawal will allow the United States to concentrate on bigger priorities, including dealing with China.

“Our true strategic competitors—China and Russia—would love nothing more than the United States to continue to funnel billions of dollars and resources and attention into stabilizing Afghanistan indefinitely,” Biden said on Aug. 16.

Dong Siqi, deputy chief executive officer of the Taiwan Think Tank, told The Epoch Times that the administration “will be able to focus more in the Indo-Pacific region, responding to different challenges posed by China,” adding that the South China Sea is an area of particular concern.

China’s ruling communist regime, which claims almost the entirety of the disputed waterways despite a 2016 international court ruling rejecting this bid, has embarked on an aggressive campaign to advance its claims, including building military outposts and airfields on reefs and islands and dispatching its maritime militia to intimidate fishing vessels from other countries.

One of the allies in the region that could see a boost in its relations with Washington is Taiwan, said Shen Ming-shih, associate professor at Tamkang University’s Graduate Institute of International Affairs and Strategic Studies in Taiwan. The self-ruled island has been on the receiving end of escalating Chinese military and rhetorical threats over the past year.

“The United States is likely to strengthen security cooperation with Taiwan in retaliation against China, and it is also likely to consider increasing defense assistance to Taiwan,” Shen told The Epoch Times in an email.

Ian Easton, senior director at the Project 2049 Institute, a Virginia-based think tank, said the United States will learn some hard lessons from Afghanistan.

“I suspect the ultimate conclusion that the Biden administration is going to make is that there is no way the United States of America can lose another friendly government,” Easton said in an interview with NTD, a sister outlet of The Epoch Times.

While the Afghanistan chaos may have shaken some U.S. allies, the reality is that most are faced with few alternatives to Washington’s support, according to James M. Dorsey, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University.

In Asia, U.S. allies such as Japan and South Korea have shown growing concern toward the Chinese regime’s aggressive behavior in the Taiwan Strait, East China Sea, and the South China Sea.

Recent months have seen the two countries emphasize their cooperation with the United States to meet threats posed by Beijing, sentiments mirrored by the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or “Quad,” an informal alliance between the United States, Australia, India, and Japan.

Dorsey sees a tightening of the Quad relationship after Afghanistan.

“The Indians will probably cooperate much closer with the United States, because of security concerns they have in the wake of Afghanistan,” he told The Epoch Times.

Beijing and the Taliban

While Chinese state media and some analysts have portrayed the U.S. departure from Afghanistan as a boon for Beijing, the picture on the ground is more complicated, according to Dorsey.

On the one hand, Beijing is happy to see the United States leave an area it considers its backyard, he said. But on the other hand, the U.S. exit has meant growing instability in Afghanistan, a country the Chinese regime has long feared could be a base for Uyghur militants to launch attacks into the far-west Xinjiang region.

While the Taliban last month assured Beijing that it would “never allow any force to use the Afghan territory to engage in acts detrimental to China,” it remains to be seen whether the group will follow through on the pledge. Even if the Taliban is sincere, Dorsey noted that it’s still unclear, at this stage, how firm the group’s control is over the entire country so that such an order can be executed.

Another concern is if the militancy spills over into neighboring Pakistan and other Central Asian states, where the Chinese regime has invested heavily through its flagship Belt and Road infrastructure investment plan.

“The fear is that you can’t contain it [the instability],” Dorsey said.

On the whole, Beijing isn’t likely to act hastily to formally recognize the Taliban or pursue economic opportunities in the country.

“You’re going to have a bit of a wait-and-see attitude, not only from China, but also from Afghanistan’s other neighbors,” according to Dorsey.

The Chinese regime has expressed interest in mineral and energy projects in Afghanistan, but they won’t be able to get off the ground without stability.

“They’re going to be cautious,” Dorsey said. “Because they don’t want to be putting money into a black hole or into a situation in which the country doesn’t stabilize.”

Luo Ya contributed to this report. 
Cathy He is the politics editor at the Washington D.C. bureau. She was previously an editor for U.S.-China and a reporter covering U.S.-China relations.
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