Great-power competition is back — just when America happens to be an overstretched, and now-humiliated, empire. Events in the wake of President Joe Biden’s botched exit from Afghanistan punctuate the point.
China wasted little time seizing on the debacle to make geopolitical inroads and assert a growing hegemony in the Asia-Pacific. The Beijing regime moved to develop relations with the new Taliban regime in Kabul and held assault exercises near Taiwan island on Tuesday.
Biden’s slapdash withdrawal came on the heels of months of failed intelligence assessments and years of naïve assurances from US military brass that the Afghan army was prepared to stand up on its own. They were all wrong. The result: images that sear the American conscience. Kabul is now the millennial Saigon.
Even those of us who have long urged getting out of the hopeless Afghan morass are apoplectic at the self-defeating way this was done.
Xi Jinping, however, has no time for either remorse or apoplexy. He and his Communist henchmen saw an opportunity to add salt to the wounds of the reeling American tiger — and they acted upon it.
Within hours of the Taliban takeover, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman indicated that Beijing was ready for “friendly cooperation with Afghanistan.” This followed a July meeting between Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and a Taliban delegation led by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.
Xi’s endgame here is simple: He envisions Afghanistan fitting neatly into his regime’s sweeping Belt and Road Initiative, a multi-continent infrastructure plan that offers smaller nations from Central Asia to the Horn of Africa to Eastern Europe development in exchange for Chinese domination.
More specifically, China hopes to exploit Afghanistan’s rare-earth metals, which some estimate to be worth up to $3 trillion, to augment Beijing’s already-dominant share of the global market. That exploitation has tangible ramifications: The dramatic annual inflation in the used-car market, for instance, is largely attributable to a semiconductor shortage driven by a Chinese bottleneck over rare-earth components.
On Tuesday, the People’s Republic also held exercises near Taiwan. Even if previously planned, the muscle-flexing’s timing was noticeable.
Taiwan is a strategically important island (and a semiconductor giant in its own right) that, alongside allies Japan and the Philippines, forms the crux of our Pacific Rim deterrence.
Beijing has long-sought “reunification” — Commie-speak for an invasion — with Taiwan, and this week, Xi sent People’s Liberation Army warships and fighter jets to conduct drills right off the island’s south. Chinese state media made sure to taunt Taipei with images of the US humiliation in Afghanistan. The message: Washington won’t save you.
It is highly unlikely that Biden, who personally helped China’s accession to the World Trade Organization and whose addled son Hunter has long been financially entangled in mainland Chinese business, will act now to buttress support for Taiwan. But he should.
The importance of the current geopolitical moment can’t be overstated. America was right to get out of Afghanistan once and for all, but horrifically myopic in how it did so. China, our foremost geopolitical threat, senses a weak rival.
The proper response to China, in the aftermath of the Afghan debacle, would be a demonstrable display of support for our core regional allies and an unapologetic statement of our Asia-Pacific strategic priorities, coupled with the hard asset deployments to match, such as warship or aircraft carrier repositioning.
Xi is now running circles around Biden. We need a serious strategic reboot of which this administration is simply incapable. But the reboot shouldn’t take the form of neoconservative folly and fecklessness, either: haughty attempts to export Madisonian democracy to decrepit Islamist backwaters.
Secure the national interest, bolster longtime allies, and stop exporting effete Western liberalism: How hard is that for our failed ruling class to grasp?
Josh Hammer is the opinion editor of Newsweek and a research fellow with the Edmund Burke Foundation.
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