An editorial comparing the Afghan situation and Taiwan was published in Global Times, China’s official English publication, Aug 16, 2021 as a mix of threat and warning. It first described the ludicrousness of the hasty US departure and compared it with the Vietnam debacle, another instance of US’s global ambition and fall. It said that the US is prone to such departures.
After a bit of hawing and humming it got down to the main point. The US is no protection.
“How Washington abandoned the Kabul regime particularly shocked some in Asia, including the island of Taiwan. Taiwan is the region that relies on the protection of the US the most in Asia, and the island's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) authorities have made Taiwan go further and further down this abnormal path. The situation in Afghanistan suddenly saw a radical change after the country was abandoned by the US. And Washington just left despite the worsening situation in Kabul. Is this some kind of omen of Taiwan's future fate?”
Interestingly, DPP or Taiwan’s ruling party and its leaders were quiet on the US exit from Afghanistan.
The editorial goes on to say that Taiwan is far less important to the US than Afghanistan which is surrounded by three states critical to the wellbeing of the US- Russia, China and Iran. Yet it left because “it has become too costly for Washington to have a presence in the country.”
The editorial mentioned next that Taiwan is very cost-effective for the US as no troops are stationed there. “This is totally a profitable geopolitical deal for Washington.” And then the main message.
“Once a cross-Straits war breaks out while the mainland seizes the island with forces, the US would have to have a much greater determination than it had for Afghanistan, Syria, and Vietnam if it wants to interfere. A military intervention of the US will be a move to change the status quo in the Taiwan Straits, and this will make Washington pay a huge price.” After all, the US acknowledges that "there is but one China and that Taiwan is part of China."
In other words, If China takes Taiwan, there will be no US to rescue it as a long term war is too costly for the US to sustain.
It asks the DPP to learn from Afghanistan. So what should the DPP do? “They should keep cross-Straits peace with political means, rather than acting as strategic pawns of the US and bear the bitter fruits of a war. “ Message completed.
Is it real or just a threat?
Western particularly US analysts now worry that China, after threatening for many years to invade Taiwan may actually do it. It's strong enough. Planes have already intruded into the so-called ‘buffer space” in the air. However, the human and military costs of an invasion will be high and involve a nuclear confrontation. So the West thinks China is hoping that threats will do the work and actual invasion will not be needed.
While Taiwan enjoys great support from the US, both are concerned that Taiwan has high propaganda but not enough strategic value. And Taiwan will cave in militarily before any retaliation can be made. The US will be able to engage with China only after an invasion has taken place and that means not preventing one but dislodging an entrenched China.
But does such a contest really make sense? The main geo-political problem is that no one wants to accept that there is no single global power. After the end of a socialist Russia, the US thought that global power rivalry was over but in a decade + years, China has risen. What began as a trade partner, is now a global rival. The US is worried less about Russia now, as it thinks Russia is no longer that strong to be a US rival as it lives off natural resources rather than industrial products.
What Afghanistan has done is show that the world is far more unpredictable than it was before. There is a much lower sense of global security now. Globalization has created the opportunity to create a multi-polar world based on economics but global politics has not yet learnt to live with that reality.
China’s latest anger/threat arises partly from the rise of “independence” groups in Taiwan. These groups, all patronized by the US, are not leashed by the DPP as they see an advantage in having such “extremists” as the DPP wants to look moderate in comparison. So China is threatening the DPP to control those elements and remind them that the invasion arithmetic is heavily loaded against Taiwan. And Afghanistan is a timely example that depending on US protection is risky.
This tension will probably rise in the next 5 years as China will want to assert itself over Taiwan just when the world is vulnerable as global institutions have weakened due to lack of use.