Saturday, August 21, 2021


The opinion page of The New York Times has teed up a juicy op-ed for everyone who's angry at President Biden right now:
In Afghanistan, China Is Ready to Step Into the Void

The speed and scope of the Taliban’s takeover in Afghanistan have prompted introspection in the West over what went wrong, and how, after billions of dollars spent on a 20-year war effort, it could all end so ignominiously. China, though, is looking forward. It is ready to step into the void left by the hasty U.S. retreat to seize a golden opportunity.

While Beijing has yet to formally recognize the Taliban as Afghanistan’s new government, China issued a statement on Monday saying that it “respects the right of the Afghan people to independently determine their own destiny” and will develop “friendly and cooperative relations with Afghanistan.”

The message here is clear: Beijing has few qualms about fostering a closer relationship with the Taliban and is ready to assert itself as the most influential outside player in an Afghanistan now all but abandoned by the United States.
The author of the piece is Zhou Bo.
Mr. Zhou was a senior colonel in the People’s Liberation Army from 2003 to 2020 and is an expert on the Chinese Army’s strategic thinking on international security.
I'm no expert, but I think he just might be prejudiced in his country's favor.

This is catnip to all the wingnuts who've been calling the president "Xiden" for months. But it's a bit much even for some of the center-leaning pundits you might expect to buy it.

Tom Friedman -- whom you probably never read, or stopped reading early in the post-9/11 era, for good reason -- doesn't buy this at all. His latest column includes an imagined interview with Chinese president Xi Jinping that's extremely skeptical about this "Biden gave China a huge gift" narrative:
Friedman: President Xi, what do you think of all the American commentators proclaiming China a winner from Biden’s withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan?

Xi: Oh, my, these are what we call useful idiots. What planet are these people living on? We had a perfect situation going before Biden came along. America was hemorrhaging lives, money, energy and focus in Afghanistan — and its presence was making the country just safe enough for Chinese multinationals to exploit.

The Metallurgical Corporation of China and Jiangxi Copper had a contract to develop a copper mine in Mes Aynak, and the China National Petroleum Corporation was working on a field in the north of the country — and the Americans were funding the overall security. That is our idea of perfection! Alas, neither of these projects ever got off the ground because of the craziness in the Kabul government. But Afghanistan is hugely rich in minerals we need. Who will protect our investors after the Americans have stopped doing it for free? Not me.

Friedman: How about the Taliban?

Xi: The Taliban?! You think that we trust them? Have you noticed what their brothers in the Pakistani Taliban have been doing to our investments in Pakistan? Just read The Wall Street Journal from July 28:
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A gunman opened fire on a car carrying two engineers in the southern port city of Karachi, the latest attack on Chinese nationals in close ally Pakistan. … Chinese nationals have been the victims of multiple recent attacks in Pakistan. Earlier this month, a bombing killed nine Chinese construction workers in a bus being taken to the site of a dam being built in northern Pakistan. Targets of other attacks in recent years include the Chinese Consulate in Karachi, the partly Chinese-owned stock exchange in Karachi and a hotel in the Chinese-run port of Gwadar.
Xi: Pakistan cannot even keep us safe from its own Taliban and Baloch separatists — in their own country — and we own Pakistan! And don’t even get me started on how the Taliban victory could inspire our Uyghur Muslims. … Joe, Joe, what did you do to us, Joe? You should have listened to your foreign policy experts and stayed in Afghanistan. The last thing we want is you refocusing all of America’s resources and energy on competing with us for the industries of the 21st century, instead of chasing the Taliban around the Hindu Kush.
What can I say? Tom Friedman is making sense!

Zhou Bo's op-ed expresses a lot of trust in the Taliban's word:
Even before its takeover of Kabul, the Taliban had promised to protect Chinese investments in Afghanistan....

A primary concern of China is the East Turkestan Islamic Movement. According to a Chinese government report, the group had early roots in Afghanistan. According to the U.N., it received Taliban and Al Qaeda support in the 2000s.... China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, said in a July meeting with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the deputy leader of the Taliban, that he hoped the Taliban would “make a clean break” with the East Turkestan group because it “poses a direct threat to China’s national security and territorial integrity.” Mr. Wang also expressed hope that the Taliban would “build a positive image and pursue an inclusive policy” — a signal that China wants the Taliban to make good on its promise of “inclusive” governance.

In response, Mr. Baradar promised that the Taliban would never allow any group to use the Afghan territory to engage in acts harmful to China.
If you think Western leaders who take the Taliban at its word are naive, then so are Chinese leaders who do the same. I don't think this will go quite as somoothly for China as Zhou Bo wants us to believe it will.

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