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.”
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.
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.”
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”.