China is wasting no time in using the chaos of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan to advance its agenda closer to home. State media has been having a field day this week trumpeting the United States as a declining global power and taunting Taiwan with threats of military action. “The fall of Kabul marks the collapse of the international image and credibility of the US,” an editorial from state news agency Xinhua said earlier in the week. “Following the blows of the global financial crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic, the decay of the American hegemony has become an undisputed reality. Its failure in Afghanistan is another turning point in that spiral fall.” Beijing is hoping America’s allies in the Pacific region are listening. Especially, Taiwan.
The rhetoric has been followed by Chinese air and naval exercises in Taiwan Strait. The military pressure, combined with media propaganda has sparked discussions in Taiwan concerning how the government would react to a Chinese invasion. More concerning, perhaps, are the discussions that Taiwanese are now having about whether or not the United States will come to Taiwan’s aid in the event of war. If a feeling of hesitation develops publicly among Taiwan’s citizens and politicians, expect China to turn up the pressure. Right now, it’s difficult to imagine that Beijing wants to instigate an invasion of Taiwan. Even as the US continues to flail in Kabul. It’s less difficult to believe China is taking advantage of the US situation to pave the way for what it views as the next stage in the campaign to bring Taiwan back into the fold.
In response to growing concerns about US resolve, the White House has stated that the United States remains committed to Taiwan. Despite the reassuring words, it remains to be seen if the Biden administration is prepared for the possibility that Chinese President Xi Jinping might probe more aggressively around Taiwan in the coming days, effectively setting up a litmus test to see how far the US will go to support Taiwan. Certainly not the most likely event, but hardly one the White House can discount at this point.