31.08.2021 Author: Vladimir Terehov

The Shadow of Afghanistan Affects the Taiwan Problem


World politics can be compared to the sea, periodically subject to perturbations of varying intensity and duration. Some of them occur entirely unexpectedly. Others seem to be expected but most often do not proceed as predicted.

The second class of perturbations referred to above includes everything that has accompanied the act of completing 20 years of US involvement in Afghanistan, which has been quite dramatic and even tragic. Especially in the television interpretation.

It was the level of the drama of this act, as well as the fact that a leading world power found itself in the middle of it, that caused quite natural associations with situations in other regions of its (power’s) continued presence. Regions where Washington’s staunch allies wonder if something similar to what they see now at the airport in Kabul will happen to them.

Apart from the “post-Soviet” limitrophe hooligan from the “Young Europeans,” a similar question arose (quite expectedly) in Taiwan, which has much more weight in the international arena. It plays the role of one of the primary irritants in relations between the two leading world powers, i.e., the US and China.

It’s been transparently hinted from Beijing whether it’s time for Taiwan’s current ruling elite to book themselves into the wheeled chassis bays of American C-17 military transports. Especially since one recently (June 6) landed at Taipei airport, delivering the first batch of Moderna vaccine. The US government provided the vaccine free of charge to Taiwan (a total of 2.5 million doses) to contain the scope and rate of spread of Covid-19 infection on the island.

Note the sharply adverse reaction in China to how the action (generally speaking, quite positive) to bring the US vaccine to the island was carried out. The reasons for this reaction have previously been discussed in the NEO. Here, the author will only state both their validity and the fact that they are directly related to the main topic of this article.

The fact is that the arrival of the US Air Force C-17 on Taiwan territory was another act of creeping process of dilution of Washington’s position on the Taiwan issue, which was fixed in 1979 during the establishment of US-China diplomatic relations. The US itself calls it “strategic ambiguity” when Washington seems not to withdraw support from Taiwan but also makes no formal commitment to provide it with military assistance if Beijing proceeds to “non-peaceful means” to resolve the problem in question.

Recently, there have been increasingly loud calls in the US to move to “strategic clarity” regarding Taiwan. This entails recognizing Taiwan’s full-fledged statehood with full official relations, including in the area of defense. That’s why the August 19 interview with Joe Biden to ABC TV channel was studied so closely, during which the American president reassured allies about the US readiness to fulfill its commitments. Taiwan was also mentioned among the individual countries. However, experts indicated this as a reservation rather than evidence of a radical change in Washington’s official position on one of the most “sensitive” issues of modern global politics.

Once again, note that the tragic scenes at Kabul airport represent nothing more than the final stage in a long process of implementing a strategy to drastically reduce US involvement in various kinds of international conflicts.  This strategy was formed (under the influence of “neo-isolationists”) during the first presidential term of Barack Obama, i.e., 15 years ago. At that time, the utter futility was clear for US national interests of both Afghanistan and the entire Middle Eastern adventure Washington was gradually drawn into as soon as the Cold War ended.

The way the procedure for ending the US military presence in Afghanistan has been handled has undoubtedly done no minor moral or reputational damage to Washington. But what is irrelevant is the not infrequent talk about the collapse of the US as a leading world power.

However, the situation in which the current American leadership finds itself is not enviable. By and large, it is faithfully reflected in the Chinese Global Times. Of course, not without hyperbole, which is inevitable when using the language of metaphors.

As in any drama, in the last act of the Afghan piece the audience can distinguish elements that look secondary but provoke at least some positivity. For the author, it was the image of a soldier with an Afghan child in his arms at the airport in Kabul. Although propaganda, American propaganda this time, seems to have tainted this worthy gesture as well.

Among the US allies who have flared up in connection with the latest Afghan events, London is very active, as it can’t abandon the role of conceptual and political authority over (“inexperienced”) Washington, telling the latter that it needs to reenter (as was the case in Europe after World War II). This time, the object of such reentry should be Afghanistan, where it is recommended to urgently “return.”

Similar advice is being given in the EU, whose very existence is increasingly becoming Europe’s main problem. The calls to organize support for the group led by Masood Azhar, whose activity in the Panjshir province in northern Afghanistan is today perhaps the main challenge to the country’s stabilization process, are worth mentioning. Its new leadership should show patience and wisdom in dealing with this long-standing problem due to Afghanistan’s complex ethnic and sectarian make-up.

Otherwise, external “well-wishers” (for example, from the same EU together with some of Afghanistan’s neighbors) will not miss a chance to organize another round of the “war on terror.” Inevitably long and bloody.

In this regard, the evolution of the Taliban (banned in Russia), widely discussed, becomes particularly relevant. Those Chinese experts are right, who believe that this process, firstly, is inevitable. Secondly, it will be long, challenging, and will hardly overcome the level at which some “Sunni regimes” in the Arab world are today.

Returning to the main topic of this article, the current Taiwanese leadership rejects any analogy with recent events in Afghanistan. But the truth of any hypotheses in the historical process is tested by the process itself. So, we’ll see.

Finally, the dramas are not entirely void of comedy that has been introduced into world politics in recent years, mainly by some of the Eastern European limitrophes. They are persistently imposing their services, which the “civilized world” needs less and less of. For the product it is offered has long gone rotten, and its odor has permeated the Limitrophes themselves.

More recently, the product in question was referred to as the “Russian threat.” But now, as the global game escalates, it inevitably becomes Russian-Chinese, without changing the complete faux pas or getting rid of the same peculiar smell.

What, one may ask, do the East-European Limitrophe states and Taiwan, which is on the other side of the globe, have in common? On any reasonable reflection, the answer is obvious – nothing, except for the trouble (potentially quite serious) of trying to pry into the Taiwan problem.

The Czech Republic tested this a year ago. But the Limitrophe doesn’t learn anything from the bitter experience of even a “dueling comrade.” Lithuania has recently decided to follow a similar path, taking the initiative of exchanging official missions with Taiwan. And China has already promised the appropriate “pleasure” to Lithuania.

Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry of Taiwan expressed gratitude to Secretary of State Antony Blinken for the fact that he, too, expressed ironclad US solidarity with Lithuania for its above-mentioned step.

On the arena of the world political circus, the cheerful voice of the host periodically echoes: “And now, Ladies and Gentlemen, a group of trained monkeys. Please welcome.” Let’s agree that their public squirming (as recently in Kyiv) is in some demand so far.

But sooner or later, the Limitrophe Bandar-logs will have to listen to their usual question: “Can you see well?” They will be once again asked by the wise (but stern) Kaa. This time, it’s “three-headed.” Beijing, Moscow, and Berlin-Paris.

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen, that is, a charismatic and highly educated politician, should have shunned this kind of Eastern European “friends” and returned to the path of building relations with the “mainland,” as the political opponents of the Kuomintang Party (Chinese Nationalist Party) were doing before.

Then the analogy with current events in Afghanistan will also become incorrect.

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.


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