Chinese officials and diplomats used the humiliating American withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021 to portray the U.S. as an unreliable international partner and a ‘declining power,’ according to a Pentagon report released on Tuesday.
The report — an annual review of Chinese military capabilities — also says Beijing is rapidly expanding its nuclear arsenal, and is on track to have 1500 warheads by 2035, nearly quadruple the number it has now.
It is part of an effort to strengthen the nation by 2049, the centenary of the communist takeover, and ‘revise the international order.’
Its release comes two weeks after President Joe Biden met with China’s Xi Jinping on the sidelines the Group of 20 Summit in Bali, Indonesia, as they sought to repair fractured relations.
And it describes how the People’s Republic of China sought to capitalize on Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan.
‘In 2021, the PRC employed multiple diplomatic tools in an attempt to erode U.S. and partner influence, such as highlighting the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and criticizing U.S.-backed security partnerships,’ the Department of Defense concluded.
The withdrawal of U.S. troops marked a low in President’s Biden’s first year in office. The Taliban took control of the country as Afghan morale collapsed and American soldiers left
The final days of the withdrawal were marked by chaotic scenes as Afghans thronged Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, desperate for safe passage out of the country
The Pentagon’s annual report on China’s military power describes how Chinese officials and state media outlets used the withdrawal to portray the U.S. as a ‘declining power’
The withdrawal of U.S. troops marked a low point in Biden’s presidency.
The Taliban made rapid advances after Biden announced he was bringing home the last American service personnel from the country.
Its fighters swept into the capital Kabul before the evacuation was complete, sending thousands of terrified Afghans to the airport where they pleaded for help to leave amid scenes of chaos.
It meant American personnel, foreign nationals and their local allies had to rely on Taliban security as they flew out of the country.
The darkest moment came on Aug. 26 when a suicide bomber killed 13 Americans and at least 160 Afghans in an attack on the airport.
In the end, as many as 9000 American citizens may have been left behind, according to a Senate Foreign Relations Committee report published in February.
The report said the withdrawal was used for propaganda by China, which tried to use it to demoralize American allies.
‘P.R.C. officials and state media outlets also repeatedly condemned the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and cited the withdrawal as evidence that the U.S. is an unreliable partner and declining power,’ it said.
American and Afghan dumped billions of dollars of gear in the hurried retreat
It left the Taliban back in control of Kabul – just as they were 20 years ago when the U.S. launched its war in Afganistan. It also meant they oversaw security for the U.S. withdrawal
Similar concerns have been raised by national security commentators at home, who said the withdrawal had let down not just the Afghan government but allies, such as the U.K., which said it was blindsided by Biden’s decision.
Republicans also said it may have emboldened Vladimir Putin to invade Ukraine, and that Xi might feel more confident about his designs for the island of Taiwan if Washington appeared to be pulling back from the world stage.
In the meantime, the new report builds on the Pentagon’s warning last year that China is expanding its nuclear force much faster than U.S. officials had predicted, and that is building military muscle designed to enable Beijing to match or surpass U.S. global power by mid-century.
It describes China as the only rival with the ‘intent and, increasingly, the capacity to reshape the international order.’
Last year, officials said China could increase its nuclear arsenal to 700 warheads within six years, and to 1000 by 2030.
‘The Department of Defense estimates that (China’s) operational nuclear warheads stockpile has surpassed 400,’ the report said. Washington has identified Beijing as the most consequential challenge to the United States
This year, the Pentagon says China has 400 warheads, but that could grow to 1500 by 2035, in a sign of an accelerating attempt to catch up with the U.S., which has 3,750 active nuclear warheads.
It is part of a military modernization program.
Beijing wants to bring Taiwan under its control. And Xi has given his military until 2027 to develop the military capability to retake the self-governing island that the Communist Party claims as its own.
‘If realized, this 2027 objective could give the (People’s Liberation Army) capabilities to be a more credible military tool for the Chinese Communist Party to wield as it pursues Taiwan unification,’ the Pentagon found in its 2022 report.
The U.S. has committed billions of dollars in military weapons to Taiwan to build up its defenses and help it rebuff any potential attack.
At the same time, the report says China’s aim is ‘the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation’ by 2049.
‘The strategy is a determined pursuit of political, social, and military modernity to expand the PRC’s national power, perfect its governance, and revise the international order in support of Beijing’s system of governance and national interests,’ it says.