Turning away from Afghanistan, US focuses on China

After two decades of focusing on Afghanistan, the US withdrawal this week allows the country to shift its focus east, where China’s rival superpower is now the number one priority.

A sign of Washington’s strategic shift, Vice President Kamala Harris was in Southeast Asia last week even as the US withdrawal from Afghanistan entered its turbulent final days, hoping to bolster the resistance of US allies against the giant of the region.

Harris accused Beijing of “actions that… threaten the rules-based international order,” particularly its aggressive claims to territory in the South China Sea.

His tour of Singapore and Vietnam was seen as an effort by President Joe Biden’s administration to reassure Asian allies, who were somewhat worried about the US withdrawal from Kabul after the sudden fall of the Afghan government that Washington had supported during almost 20 years. years.

US Vice President Kamala Harris delivers remarks in Singapore on visit to promote US relations in the region against alleged threat from China Photo: POOL / EVELYN HOCKSTEIN

Ryan Hass, a foreign policy specialist at the Brookings Institution, said the debacle of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan would not have a lasting impact on Washington’s credibility in Asia.

“America’s position in Asia is based on its shared interests with its partners to balance China’s rise and preserve the long peace that has supported the region’s rapid development,” Hass said.

“None of these factors are lessened by the events in Afghanistan,” he told AFP.

The American shift to East Asia “will open up new opportunities” for the United States and its partners in the region, he told AFP.

Taliban troops at Kabul airport: Will China or Russia see the Taliban's seizure of power in Afghanistan as a sign of the weakness of the United States? Taliban troops at Kabul airport: Will China or Russia see the Taliban’s seizure of power in Afghanistan as a sign of the weakness of the United States? Photo credit: AFP / WAKIL KOHSAR

Lawmaker Adam Smith, head of the House of Representatives Committee on Armed Services, said the United States’ exit from Afghanistan is unlikely to alter the balance between the United States and rival superpowers Russia and China.

He on Tuesday rejected suggestions that the Americans’ seeming momentary display of weakness might encourage China to invade Taiwan or Russia to attack Ukraine, for example.

“I think anyone thinks their [Russia’s or China’s] the math has changed dramatically because we just pulled the last 2,500 troops out of Afghanistan – I really don’t see that, ”Smith said in an online conference at Brookings.

“There are a lot of other questions that come into play as to whether or not Russia and China will feel like they have the capacity to be aggressive in these parts of the world,” he said. he declares.

Derek Grossman, a former Pentagon official and now defense expert with think tank Rand Corporation, said China may seek an advantage in fostering good relations with the Taliban, the militant Islamist group that US forces have fought for. 20 years before regaining power in Afghanistan. 15.

Beijing could quickly decide to recognize the Taliban government, even as Washington and other Western governments wait to convince the new Afghan rulers to moderate their intransigent policies.

“China, as a new great power competing with the United States, probably wants to demonstrate its unique way of handling world events, which tends to be – often reflexively – the opposite of Washington’s approach. “said Grossman.

“Recognizing Taliban-ruled Afghanistan would help give the impression that it is Beijing, and no longer Washington, that is now setting the agenda and shaping the future regional order,” he said.

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