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As the West reels, Beijing swoops to firm up ties with Taliban

Lin Minwang, a South Asia expert with Shanghai’s Fudan University told Chinese state media on Monday that this was Beijing being pragmatic: “How you want to rule your country is largely your own business, just don’t let that affect China,” he said.

The Wakhan corridor is Afghanistan’s only border with China.

The Wakhan corridor is Afghanistan’s only border with China.Credit:Marta Pascual Juanola

But John Blaxland, a professor of international security at Australian National University and a former director of Joint Intelligence Operations, said there were broader implications for the global order.

“It is a deeply chilling message about how America can change its mind and despite platitudes, not follow through on them,” he said. “It’s one that speaks to an eclipse of the unipolar moment, it speaks to an eclipse of American power.”

Blaxland said Beijing recognising the Taliban government was now a formality. The US would likely follow.

“[The US and its allies] have spent trillions of dollars in the dust of Afghanistan and Iraq,” he said.

“The same trillions of dollars conceivably could have been spent on a [Chinese] Belt and Road-like initiative, or rehabilitation of American infrastructure that might have secured American prosperity and stability for all of us to share into the future.”

Boris Ruge, the vice-chairman of the Munich Security Conference, the world’s largest security gathering, said Beijing would make “maximum use of the images out of Afghanistan to undermine America’s network of allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific”.

“They have plenty of bad images to work with,” Ruge said after videos were beamed around the world of desperate Afghans clinging to planes to get out of Kabul.

Republican Mike Waltz, an army veteran, said on Twitter the chaotic end to the war sent a terrible message to other countries feeling under threat. “If I were in Taiwan or Ukraine right now watching all this unfold, I would be terrified knowing this is how the United States will react under this administration,” he said.

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But Ruge said the US withdrawal was also a conscious decision to end America’s longest war to concentrate resources where they are needed. “First and foremost vis-à-vis China,” he told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

The former deputy ambassador to Washington said the threat to Taiwan and Afghanistan was not comparable because the US withdrawal was a part of the American pivot away from the Middle East to its immediate region.

“I think the people of Taiwan and Japan know that America is doing this because they now see the great power challenge at the eastern end of the Eurasian landmass,” added Blaxland. “That is the more significant challenge for them to be prepared to respond to.”

In Kabul, the shifting power balance is already playing out in the diplomatic quarter.

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The US, Germany, Britain, Canada, Australia and India are among the dozen countries to have shut down their embassy operations since the Taliban began their drive towards the capital.

China’s embassy remains open. “It is still operating normally,” said foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying.

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