Last week’s review discussed Steve Bannon’s comments on the US-China relationship, saying it was a matter of us-or-them, and the day after, he was gone. How much of his viewpoint persists in the US administation following his departure is unknown, but the stakes were being raised in another related area in recent days – Afghanistan and Pakistan.
China has been really lucky since 9/11 – it has not been pulled into the Islamic fundamentalism issue that the US has faced globally, and it has amazingly managed to largely maintain a separation between its own increasingly discontented Muslim population and developments beyond its borders. But it’s going to get tougher. Trump and his Sec. of State Rex this week both threatened Pakistan and told them to stop supporting the bad guys in Afghanistan, or else. The motivation for US troops being in Afghanistan all these years has been to protect the stability of Pakistan, a nuclear-capable power with all sorts of crazies of its own. The US involvement is related to its “global cop” role – there are no strategic issues there that directly impact on the US. If the US steps back, will China fill the vacuum? To get involved means to create enemies, and China is not like the United States. It is not on the other side of the world and free from the threat of a domestic Muslim insurgency.
So would they do it? Would Beijing decide to replace the United States as the political and financial backer of Pakistan? Could they? With what consequences? If we were to have the opportunity to have a chat with Those in Command, we would suggest that them using their influence to get Pakistan to be more helpful to the US in terms of stabilizing Afghanistan could be a good idea. Balanced against that is the closed-circuit echo chamber effect of the belief that the US is in decline and China is the rightful dominant power in Asia, in its place. It probably is, of course, but there are the crucial issues of context and timing. There’s a thing about war – there are no certainties about how it plays out. But there is one certainty on involvement in Pakistan/Afghanistan, as the British and the Russians know just as well as the Americans, and that is messiness.
Enjoy the weekend, ladies and gentlemen.