After leaving Afghanistan, US now wants to focus on China

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After focusing for two decades on Afghanistan, the US is now planning to shift its attention to the east, where rival superpower China is the priority.

In an indication of America’s strategic turn, last week Vice President Kamala Harris was in Southeast Asia even as the US pullout from Afghanistan moved into its turbulent final days, hoping to strengthen the US allies’ pushback against the region’s giant.

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

The VP’s tour of Singapore and Vietnam was seen as an effort to reassure Asian allies, who were left somewhat disquieted by the US pullout from Kabul after the sudden fall of the Afghan government.

A foreign policy specialist at Brookings Institution, Ryan Hass, told a source that Washington’s turn to East Asia would “open up new opportunities” for the US and its partners in the region.

US and rival superpowers Russia and China

The head of the Armed Forces Committee in the House of Representatives, Lawmaker Adam Smith, said the US exit from Afghanistan is not likely to change the balance between the US and rival superpowers Russia and China.

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

A former Pentagon official, Derek Grossman, said China could seek an advantage in fostering good relations with the Afghan Taliban.

Beijing could decide quickly to recognize the Taliban government, even as Washington and other Western governments hold off as they hope to convince Afghanistan’s new rulers to moderate their hardline policies.

Grossman concluded, “Recognizing the Taliban-run government would contribute to the perception that it is China, and no longer the United States, that is now setting the agenda and shaping the future regional order.”

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