For Beijing’s propaganda mill, the Taliban’s seizure of power in Afghanistan has been a gift.
It’s not just that it happened. The collapse of the U.S.-backed government, the speed at which it happened and the horrifying, ongoing disaster of a withdrawal have been greeted with joy by the Chinese Communist Party, a delight only slightly hidden behind a veneer of outrage.
As part of China’s propaganda offensive, the country’s envoy to the United Nations Human Rights Council said last week that the U.S. military ought to be held responsible for human rights abuses in the failed state.
“During a session on reports of Taliban abuses, Chinese Ambassador Chen Xu gave no details of the alleged violations in the nearly 20 years since U.S. troops entered Afghanistan to fight the Islamist militant Taliban after the Sept. 11 attacks,” Reuters reported Tuesday.
“However, Amnesty International has previously said that thousands of Afghans have been killed or injured by U.S. forces of which few have been brought to justice. The U.S. Department of Defense at the time defended its efforts to avoid casualties.”
Naturally, the Chinese disregarded that.
“The U.S., U.K., Australia and other countries must be held accountable for the violation of human rights committed by their military in Afghanistan and the evolution of this current session should cover this issue,” Chen told the Human Rights Council.
What’s more, he blamed, among other things, “democracy” for this.
“Under the banner of democracy and human rights, the U.S. and other countries carry out military interventions in other sovereign states and impose their own model on countries with vastly different history and culture,” Chen said.
This, he added, had caused “great suffering.”
China has a clear agenda in Afghanistan, and Beijing’s rulers have been betting on the Taliban as a winning horse for some time now.
In July, the BBC reported, the government hosted a senior Taliban delegation in Tianjin. Foreign minister Wang Yi said his expectation was the Taliban would “play an important role in the country’s peace, reconciliation and reconstruction process.”
Furthermore, during his speech, Chen noted that China “will continue developing a good neighborly, friendly and cooperative relationship with Afghanistan and continue our constructive role in its process of peace and reconstruction.”
Given that China never fought in Afghanistan, it’s in a position to make nice with the Taliban — and, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corp., the Chinese Embassy in Kabul said it would be focused on developing infrastructure in the country.
“China’s offer for the Taliban seems to be ‘infrastructure for peace,’” said professor Gu Xuewu, director of the Center for Global Studies at the University of Bonn in Germany, according to the ABC.
“Providing an overall new infrastructure system for Afghanistan — from highways to telecommunication, from hospital to schools — would strengthen China’s influence in the country and beyond.”
Of course, this olive branch will do nothing more than prop up an oppressive dictatorship by a group known for its human rights abuses, particularly toward religious minorities and women. That doesn’t matter to Beijing, since human rights have never been a concern of the Chinese Communist Party.
But now, thanks to President Joe Biden’s botched withdrawal from Afghanistan, China gets to pretend it actually cares about the issue.
It’s not just Chen Xu, either. On Wednesday, the Global Times — China’s main English-language propaganda mouthpiece — published a piece condemning the U.S. human rights record, as well.
“As uncertainties loom large in this war-torn country, the number of Afghan refugees continues to rise. Nonetheless, the US-led West have no will to shoulder its responsibilities, but instead they have tried hard to shift the burden to Afghanistan’s neighboring countries,” stated the piece, written by chief reporter Wu Wenwen.
“What’s worse, it is even thinking of sanctioning the Taliban regardless of the possibility that such sanction may generate more human rights violations in the country.
“China has lashed out against the irresponsible acts of the US-led Western countries. Chinese envoy to the UN Chen Xu said on Tuesday at a special session of the UN Human Rights Council that the US, UK, Australia and other countries must be held accountable for human rights violations by their military in Afghanistan.”
China has also used the collapse of Afghanistan as a warning to Taiwan and it’s pro-West ruling party, the Democratic Progressive Party.
#环球时报Editorial: From what happened in Afghanistan, those in Taiwan should perceive that once a war breaks out in the Straits, the island’s defense will collapse in hours and US military won’t come to help. As a result, the DPP will quickly surrender. https://t.co/ZUrZmcsSWf pic.twitter.com/wFG4vrHbTo
— Global Times (@globaltimesnews) August 16, 2021
“The geopolitical value of Afghanistan is no less than that of Taiwan island. Around Afghanistan, there are the US’ three biggest geopolitical rivals – China, Russia and Iran. In addition, Afghanistan is a bastion of anti-US ideology,” the Global Times declared in an Aug. 16 editorial.
“The withdrawal of US troops from there is not because Afghanistan is unimportant. It’s because it has become too costly for Washington to have a presence in the country. Now the US wants to find a better way to use its resources to maintain its hegemony in the world ….
“Some people on the island of Taiwan hype [sic] that the island is different from Afghanistan, and that the US wouldn’t leave them alone. Indeed, the island is different from Afghanistan. But the difference is the deeper hopelessness of a US victory if it gets itself involved in a cross-Straits war. Such a war would mean unthinkable costs for the US, in front of which the so-called special importance of Taiwan is nothing but wishful thinking of the DPP authorities and secessionist forces on the island.”
The editorial closed by advising the DPP to “keep cross-Straits peace with political means, rather than acting as strategic pawns of the US and bear the bitter fruits of a war.”
It’s not that Taiwan is in the business of taking its advice from Global Times editorials or that anyone suddenly believes China has become a bastion of human rights.
‘Rather, it’s that’s the Biden debacle has put Beijing in the bully pulpit. Taiwan is doubtless a bit more concerned that an alliance with Washington doesn’t guarantee its safety. China’s human rights record may be atrocious — but then, they can wallpaper over it by pointing to the ghastly scenes coming out of Afghanistan.
Of all Joe Biden’s failures in withdrawing from Afghanistan, the most costly and long-lasting impact may not be felt in the fall of Kabul, but in the empowerment of Beijing.